To say that eating breakfast at Metabolicious is a unique experience is a massive understatement. The breakfast-only restaurant is the brilliant outcome of a partnership between chef Carla Hines and sports nutrition scientist Daryl Argot.
“We’ve long recognized the massive impact that nutrition has on an athlete’s performance,” said Argot when I visited the restaurant-slash-medical-laboratory last month. “But one of the major takeaways of recent research is the astounding magnitude of the benefits, in terms of performance, that come from precise balancing of an individual’s metabolic factors. It’s not enough to, say, carbo-load before an endurance event. You have to balance your intake against your mitochondria count, blood volume, and even your muscle fiber ratios.”
In other words, Argot says, it’s not just proper nutrition, but nutrition that is specifically tailored to an athlete's current metabolic status, that makes the difference between a run-of-the-mill performance and a winning, record-breaking one.
So why should those of us who don’t happen to be elite athletes care about this? The reason, chef Hines says, is that “there is considerable evidence that the bulk of food enjoyment comes from the match between the food’s nutritional content and your body’s nutritional needs.”
“What does it mean to be in the mood for a food, or to crave it?” Hines asks. “It means that your body is alerting you to the requirement for the specific metabolic inputs contained in the food you crave.”
This all sounds like an interesting but abstract gastronomical theory, but the truly fascinating bit is how Argot and Hines have put this theory into practice.
You don’t just visit Metabolicious for a meal. Twenty-four hours before your reservation, you must visit the restaurant for a blood draw and oral physiognomic analysis. They analyze the results in their in-house medical laboratory and use their findings, along with the information you supplied about your expected activities post-breakfast, to prepare a custom breakfast for you that is exactly matched to your metabolic needs.
Argot and Hines engaged designer Rudolph Green (the genius who designed the interiors of places like Basket Face and Piano Sauce) to ensure that the atmosphere of the clinical side of the restaurant avoids associations with hospitals and health-care in general.
I arrived for my blood draw a day before my reservation. The phlebotomist used a special light to highlight my veins and drew two vials with very little discomfort. While the blood draw was a bit tedious, the oral physiognomic tests were fascinating and, dare I say, a little bit fun.
The tongue scan measures the exact shape of your tongue and the layout and distribution of test buds. I learned that my tongue is in the 85th percentile of size and has a 15% higher-than-average taste bud density. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this information, but it’s nevertheless interesting.
The jaw analysis measures the dimensions of my teeth and palate, and assesses how wide I can open my mouth and how much bite force I generate. “55% of sandwich enjoyment comes from the sensation of biting a sandwich of the right thickness for you,” Hines says. They slice the bread to a thickness dictated by each customer's operational mouth dimensions and toast it to match the other aspects of their chewing function.
I won’t go into details on how their custom-built and patented masticulometer actually measures these characteristics of your bite. You’ll just have to experience it yourself.
For an extra fee, you can opt for a VO2-max test and even a muscle biopsy to assess your ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. I didn’t go for those options, however.
I arrived at the restaurant-side of the facility the next morning and was immediately ushered to my table. The morning was overcast, but each table has a seasonal affective disorder therapy lamp that they use in case of cloudy weather to ensure a “bright and sunny” breakfast experience.
There are no menus at Metabolicious. The breakfast you are served is determined solely by the results of your blood analysis and oral physiognomic analysis. I was skeptical at first, but the magnificent breakfast they gave me won me over to Metabolicious’ approach to nutrition.
I was served a coffee with caffeine content that was an exact match for my level of caffeine dependence (in other words - a lot!). I was given a fruit salad of blueberries and kiwi wedges that seemed simple but nevertheless exactly “hit the spot” I needed for sweetness. Later, Hines told me that my fruit salad only used blueberries between 9 and 12 millimeters in diameter, as was dictated by my personal soft-food-chew mechanics.
My breakfast sandwich - lox on rye - was complete perfection. The bread was sliced 11 millimeters thick and toasted to the point where a shearing force of exactly 87 newtons was needed to bite through. This NASA-level attention to detail really paid off - each bite held a perfect blend of crunch and chew. “The tricky part,” Hines says, “is baking the bread so the crust has predictable toasting characteristics.” The lox was a London Cure Smoked Salmon and the cream cheese on the bread was made from milk that was specially blended to have a fat-content they computed was ideal for me: 4.87%.
Because each customer’s meal is dictated by their health and medical status, everything that comes from the kitchen is considered HIPAA-regulated private health information. For that reason, picture-taking is not allowed in the dining area. Most health-insurance plans do not reimburse for meals at Metabolicious.