Health-focused restaurants are notoriously hard to pull off, even more so when the wellness topic at hand is as clinical-sounding as Dr. Andrew Weil’s “anti-inflammatory food pyramid,” meant to prevent chronic inflammation and myriad resulting ailments. The philosophy—practiced at Weil’s True Food Kitchen, in Fairfax—lacks the rugged connotation of Paleo and the glamour of South Beach but is in fact more forgiving than either of those trendy diets, especially to food lovers. There’s an emphasis on organic produce, mushrooms, seafood, and spices, plus allowances for red wine and dark chocolate.
Weil’s approach is appealing. At the 220-seat eatery in Merrifield’s Mosaic district (the second outpost on the East Coast and the tenth location in the country), a crew of upbeat, T-shirted servers were quick to recommend turkey lasagna and garlicky kale salad for their flavor rather than for health reasons, a nice reminder that this was a restaurant dinner, not a nutritionist appointment. The eco-friendly decor is less subtle, meant to evoke nature with verdant banquettes and a wall of birch trunks. An open kitchen spans the length of the dining room; you’ll want to ask for a table with chairs—which are fashioned out of plastic soda bottles, naturally—near the front to avoid the din of cooks at work.
The varied menu circumnavigates the globe, frequently touching down in Asia or spinning comfort items like burgers and tacos into healthier forms. Starters prove the most uneven—edamame dumplings arrive in a tepid mushroom-dashi broth—or ho-hum healthy (hummus, crudités). A better way to begin is at the bar, where fresh juices create a refreshing pomegranate limeade or a boozier Thai-basil/grapefruit martini. Salads also shine, thanks to unusual textures and flavors, such as sweet roasted vegetables with pomegranate seeds and horseradish vinaigrette or green papaya perked up with a bounty of herbs, roasted cashews, and chilies.
Small caloric splurges are worth taking. Crunchy, thin-crust pizzas arrive with a scant amount of cheese but flavorful toppings like chicken sausage and baked fennel; a bison burger packs plenty of flavor thanks to shiitakes, caramelized onions, and roasted-garlic “umami” sauce. More virtuous options like grilled salmon with smoky quinoa and cilantro/pumpkin-seed salad or crisp-skinned roast chicken over lentils and curry yogurt also hit the mark. Not all the dishes that lean toward restraint are satisfying—some could be saucier, punchier, less spa-like. But in a dining landscape bloated with pork belly and mac and cheese, Dr. Weil’s concept can feel like a true escape.