Remove french fry, insert stir-fry

Washington’s not always the easiest place to whittle your waistline. The fast-paced lifestyle doesn’t leave much time to prepare wholesome fare; ever-popular all-you-can-eat brunch buffets abound. A late-night jumbo slice always plays the temptress following an evening of imbibing, and a greasy burger can entice after a long day.

Still, this town is big enough for both. It’s time to turn to a more sensible solution — low-calorie dining in D.C.

{mosimage}Finding healthy options has always proven challenging in the quest for a quick bite. Enter Juice Joint (1025 Vermont Ave. NW), which seeks to overturn fast food’s trans-fat tradition — giant burgers and greasy onion rings are noticeably absent from this homey spot’s vibrant yellow menu. Fresh salmon stands in for fried chicken, and toasted pita with smooth hummus substitutes for fries with ketchup.

Loyalists favor the stir-fry, a colorful ensemble of vegetables draped across tender brown rice. Skip the grilled salmon platter and opt for the salmon stir-fry — the setup’s essentially the same for both servings, but the latter proves slightly more filling.

An extensive list of sandwiches and wraps dominate the menu, offering several vegan and vegetarian choices. Holland’s Pocket, a thick whole-wheat pita brimming with hummus, spinach, carrots, sprouts and a light splash of lemon juice, is a vegan favorite.

Even so, the selection won’t disappoint carnivores. The turkey burger, garnished with crisp lettuce and succulent tomato, ably satisfies a craving for the real thing. Spicy Firecracker Salmon and Jerked Chicken wraps are brightened and balanced by a slathering of sweet, tangy mango salsa. If you can’t take the heat, the juicy relish also features prominently in a warm wrap stuffed with seared yellowfin tuna.

As its name suggests, the crowded café’s juices are its selling point, and some of its smoothies are substantial enough to be breakfast. The Blues Cruise’s tart summer blueberries add a twist to the usual morning or midday treat.

Hill staffers won’t always have time to head downtown for lunch, but Café 8, a newcomer to Barrack’s Row that bills itself as a “true” Mediterranean eatery, is only one Metro stop away. Several weight-loss books have been written about regimens composed strictly of the region’s staple foods. Many nutritionists recommend the diet, which is heavy in nutrient-rich ingredients such as olive oil, lemon juice, yogurt and garlic.

The decadent décor, with its dark-cherry wood tables, gold beads and mirrors set against lush, deep-red walls, creates an indulgent atmosphere. But don’t let that fool you: the food is simple, and the bread is hot and homemade.

Ah, the bread. From beneath blankets that cover the basket, steam swirls high and inviting. Ekmek, a velvety cousin of pita, comes with zatar, a mélange of olive oil, thyme, sesame seed and sumac berry. But don’t neglect the establishment’s other exceptional spreads. The muhammara blends harissa, a Moroccan spice, with roasted red peppers and pomegranate molasses. A sprinkle of walnuts’ mellow flavor offsets the spread’s zest. The baba ghannouj settles just the right amount of garlic with eggplant, and the feta and olive spread couples two favorites in a salty, rich dip accented by Greek mountain oregano. Enjoy it with a shot of anise-flavored liqueur from the bar to coalesce harmonizing essences.

Speaking of the bar, sangria is made in-house with a light, smoky touch of cinnamon and a gentle tang that settles across the palate. The wine list boasts hard-to-find varieties from such countries as Lebanon and Israel. But perhaps the bar’s boldest and most interesting move is the substitution of simple syrups for Turkish juices, called visnes. Whether sipped alone or mixed with some sort of spirit, the sour cherry, pomegranate, nectarine and apricot drinks are a delightful retreat for the tongue.

At about 20 calories each, stuffed grape leaves called dolma are flawless appetizers. Bursting with rice, carrots and onion, thin leaves give way to savory warmth. As a main course, both the lamb and chicken kebabs make for a light, satisfying dinner at the end of a rough workweek.

When Saturday night rolls around, weight-watching Washingtonians have every hamlet of the city at their fingertips. On the third floor of Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights sits Rock Creek restaurant, which bills itself as a provider of “mindful dining” and “realistic portions.” The restaurant omits butter and cream from the preparation of all dishes; complete nutritional information is listed for each item.

Rock Creek might set you back more than a stop at Five Guys, but $35 for a prix-fixe three-course dinner is far from unreasonable — especially after you taste the satin-soft Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi, dotted with meaty drops of country ham and delicate caramelized onions. Avoid the shellfish pot stickers, which are too fishy — unfortunately contradicting their arrival in a lovely bath of coconut red curry broth. The Boston Bibb and hearts of romaine salad fills the lettuce niche quite well, with leaves as green and moist as those from a farmer’s market. Although the bread is ho-hum, the roasted eggplant puree supplied in lieu of butter is so luscious one would swear it’s full of fat.

When the grilled peppered beef striploin arrives, all bets are off and $35 suddenly seems like a bargain. Accented by root vegetables and cipollini onions, the dish looks more like something from an upscale chophouse than a dieting haven, and tastes as good as any respectable slightly-above-average steak thanks to an aromatic red wine reduction.

Dessert selections vary, so hope the tiramisu sundae will be on the list, as well as the chocolate-peanut butter crunch. Servings are small, but by the end of the meal the petite portions are perfectly sized.

Eating out and watching your weight may never go hand in hand, but this is definitely a start.

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