My Big, Fat-Free Column

Seven deliciously guilty pleasures, from french fries to shepherd's pie

God help me, is there anything more depressing and unseemly than a food writer on a diet? It's positively un-American. But years of cultivating a lifestyle in which the input far exceeded the output has taken its toll on my backside (or as I like to call it, the full-page spread), and so I now find myself vacillating somewhere between Stage 1 denial (as in, "No, thank you, I will not be having the profiteroles") and Stage 5 acceptance (as in, "Yes, I do believe a kale-wrapped tofu patty is just as satisfying as a griddled patty melt with extra cheese").

Since I want to keep this gig, and because I'm currently not allowing myself to actually eat some of the worst caloric offenders, I figure I can at least take vicarious pleasure in describing them to you (from memory of course, dear Weight Watchers sponsor). So here, in random order and in all their ass-widening, tooth-decaying glory, are some of my favorite guilty food pleasures:

1) Spicy curly fries with ranch dressing from Barney's: Skinny, crispy, and doused with a zippy-salty seasoning somewhat reminiscent of buffalo-wing marinade, they're almost worth skipping the French burger (with blue cheese and bacon) and getting a double order. Almost.

2) Seven-layer bars from Ultimate Cookie: Small and unassuming, known by a variety of names (caramelitas, Seven Wonder bars, gooey chewy things), these decadent treats are available at just about every local cafe from here to Daly City. Basically, they comprise all my favorite dessert ingredients rolled into one neat little square, beginning with a shortbread crust, followed by layers of caramel, fudge, walnuts, coconut, and chocolate and butterscotch chips. Afterward, clean the house. Twice.

3) Chicago dogs at SBC Park: They're no Poochie Dogs, but the plump, juicy Chicago-style wieners at the ballpark scratch the Skokie itch. Packed into the bun along with your tube steak are onions, peppers, chopped tomatoes, bright green relish, dill pickle, mustard, and the all-important celery salt. If you skip the beer (yeah, right), it almost qualifies as low-carb.

4) Corned beef hash at Park Chalet: Truthfully, my real guilty pleasure in this category is the canned corned beef hash at Tyger's Coffee Shop, but I have trouble admitting that, even to myself. Park Chalet's top-shelf version includes chunks of house-cured corned beef, bell pepper, onion, cherry-tomato salsa, and a topper of perfectly poached eggs.

5) Hachis parmentier at Cafe Bastille: The French version of shepherd's pie puts five pounds on your hips just by ordering it -- but, damn, it's good. A casserole of mashed potatoes, ground beef, Gruyère cheese, bacon fat, and butter, butter, butter.

6) Mitchell's macapuno and mango ice cream with chocolate dip: First you got yer scoop of macapuno (sweet coconut). Then you got yer scoop of fresh mango. The 16 percent butterfat cream is thrown in at no extra charge. Set it all atop a waffle cone and cover the whole thing in a dark-chocolate shell. Nuff said.

7) Tartine's croque-monsieur: I recently became a convert to the tomato variation of this Parisian street snack, wherein a thick, chewy slab of house-baked country French bread is spread with luscious, creamy fromage blanc and topped with Niman Ranch smoked ham, hunks of Gruyère cheese, and slices of garden-ripe tomatoes. It's then toasted in the oven to bubbly brown perfection. French women don't get fat, my ass.

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