The Daily Grill's crab cake BLT is one of their heathier offerings. (photo by Michael Ryan)

The California Nutrition Law Information and Enforcement Act states: As of Jan. 1, 2010 the law requires that large restaurant chains with 20 or more locations in California disclose calorie information.

It’s a mandate that proverbially let the cat out of the bag for fast food restaurants and other large corporate eateries. Most of the time that cat is a fat one. The Cheesecake Factory has had the dubious distinction of having more than one of their menu items on the “Worst Foods in America” list from the popular book “Eat This, Not That” from Men’s Health Magazine. According to the book, their bistro shrimp pasta has the calorie equivalent of 14 Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts.

Has calorie disclosure had any affect on the eating habits of Americans? I suppose it depends on who you ask. In New York City, where calorie labeling started, an NYU study showed that people purchased about the same number of calories both before and after the labeling law took effect.

Results were just the opposite from the calorie apathy found in the NYU study to a tasting I attended at the Daily Grill in the Yahoo! Center showcasing their Simply 600 Menu. My table consisted of writers and bloggers from various media outlets. In this instance they were all women, all cognizant of eating right while eating out. Everyone was very receptive to the low calorie offerings.

The stuffed salmon (stuffed with a healthy amount of crab meat) served with mixed greens and grilled tomato was a table favorite. The Moroccan spiced chicken platter offered a plate full of chicken and vegetable kebobs, mixed greens, and brown rice, showcasing how far 600 calories could be stretched. The Daily Grill has less than 20 locations in California and by law is not required to post the calorie count on their menu, but banking that their customers (mostly here on the West Coast) would welcome the Simply 600 lineup was a good call.

“The early response from our guests has been overwhelming,” noted Executive Vice President of Operations John Sola. “They can’t believe the vast selection of large, flavorful portions, all fewer than 600 calories.”

It’s no shocker that the attendees of the Daily Grill Santa Monica tasting differed from the findings of the NYU study. Demographics, age, gender, all play a roll when eating out — calories posted or not.

While I found all the Daily Grills offerings very good and was impressed by how they managed to make such substantial portions so low cal, the Simply 600 probably would not be my first option. I remarked to the group, if I am dining out I generally steer clear of the lighter options and go with heftier offerings citing more bang for my caloric buck. Thinking I was joking, the table lifted into an uproar of laughter. Feeling quite abashed from my own sentiment, Daily Grill Chef Phil Kastel did cite that dining out is an occasion and people are less worried about what they eat, making me feel like less of a foolish fatso.

It’s all relative. I admittedly indulge, but I also rode my bike to and from the Daily Grill three times to attend the tasting after forgetting my bike lock, and then forgetting my camera. So despite my absent mindedness, the cycling circuit certainly counts for something.

If you have made the decision to eat at a Burger King, despite the writing on the wall, all your chips are in the pot, and calorie counting is probably not a priority. Moderation and exercise are the great equalizers. As for the Daily Grill, you can still can get a burger and a beer, but the Simply 600 menu offers a viable, healthy alternative.

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, “Tour de Feast.” To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.

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