Healthy food? Good for you? Yes

NEWPORT BEACH — A restaurant whose owners claim they can serve food that's good for you and still tastes great is opening its doors Monday at Fashion Island.

Called True Food Kitchen, the basis of the menu is rooted in a concept that came from a Harvard-educated doctor and writer who's twice been on the cover of Time magazine and has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Larry King Live."

Dr. Andrew Weil, 68, a Philadelphia native who broke into literary stardom in 1972 with "The Natural Mind," has teamed up with restaurant owner Sam Fox, 41.

Fox, of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, is a self-described "meat-and-potatoes guy" who's decided to give healthful eating a whirl — a significant break from his trademark hamburger, pizza and steak restaurants.

"We only have one other True Food Kitchen, and it's in Phoenix," Fox said. "This is our first in California, and we think it matches the California lifestyle."

The Newport location is next to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Newport Center Drive.

Both Weil and Fox are residents of Tucson. They met a few years ago through a mutual friend, to whom Weil immediately pitched the idea of creating a restaurant whose philosophy is simple: fresh and pure ingredients that are healthy for you. It was a subject on which Weil expounded upon at length in several of the books.

The executive chef, Michael Stebner, who has a culinary degree from "the school of hard knocks," will be in charge of nearly 40 chefs, who he said will be directed to go easy on the butter, sugar and cream, and use wholesome ingredients like extra virgin olive oil and organic grains.

And when and if they use butter or cream, you can bet it's going to be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Stebner said.

"We're not going to rely on what I like to call 'culinary crutches,'" said Stebner. "That's the massive quantities of starch and fat that Americans love to eat. The way we see it, if you start with the highest ingredients, the food holds itself together, and you don't need anything else."

As a sampler, some of the dishes run the gamut from shaved turkey sandwiches to spaghetti puttanesca to wild Pacific halibut to organic tomato and olive oil pizza. One of Stebner's favorites, he said, is the Tuscan kale salad, which is seasoned with a combination of lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan and bread crumbs.

But Weil has garnered particular attention because he's a medical botany expert, having received an undergraduate degree in the subject at Harvard University before graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1968.

Weil said he could have become a regular family physician but he started writing books about healthy living.

On Thursday, Weil and Fox gave dozens of employees a pep talk, telling them that True Food Kitchen, which opened in the fall of 2008 in Phoenix, is operating at a steady clip, and that some patrons are coming in four to five times a week.

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