While they’re intended as an occasional indulgence, meals from fancy restaurants are typically saturated in butter, salt, cheese and meat. Sure, they taste amazing. And gourmet chefs often exhibit stellar cooking techniques. But I (and I suspect most people) usually feel sluggish after a decadent, expensive meal, waddling into the night, wanting only to sprawl belly-up on my couch.

So it’s particularly refreshing whenever I learn of a higher-end restaurant that cares how diners feel after the plates have been cleared, after the check has been dropped. Meet Arugula Ristorante, a recently remodeled Italian-Mediterranean restaurant in Boulder, Colorado that fuses gourmet cooking with health-and-nutrition ideology to achieve delicious, made-from-scratch dishes that don’t require you to unfasten the top button of your pants.

This better-for-you initiative is driven by chef/proprietor Alec Schuler, who in 2001 attended Manhattan’s nutrition-oriented cooking school Natural Gourmet Institute, and executive chef Sven Hedena, who turns to local farms to inform menu items on a weekly basis.

As a team, Schuler and Hedena are creating a new vocabulary for gourmet food that we rarely see—dishes that deserve to be judged both by their tastiness and their nutrition; desserts by their decadence, yes, but also their feasibility of being eaten without getting a stomachache. Arugula Ristorante is the opposite of the Cheesecake Factory model, which slathers bricks of cheesecake with cloyingly sweet sauce and canned whipped cream. Rather, Arugula is about quality of ingredients, quality of technique and quality of nutrition. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Get a taste of Arugula with their recipe for Vegan Tomato Fennel Bisque, which uses olive oil in place of heavy cream for a luxurious mouthfeel and ample good-fats.

Vegan Tomato Fennel Bisque

(Yields about 12 x 8 oz. portions)

  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium to large fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon anise seed
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seed
  • 5 14 oz-cans of tomatoes (unsalted), diced or crushed
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ cups of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, maybe more to taste
  • Small pinch black pepper

Directions:

1. Sweat onion, fennel and anise in a few tablespoons of olive oil, about 10 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, stock and salt, simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Blend (preferably with an immersion blender) while emulsifying by slowing adding the remaining olive oil.  Add sherry vinegar and sugar and season to taste with more salt as desired.

4. Serve in small glass bowls to showcase color and freshness.