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CHOW HOUND: Never say diet 

Every January they strike, maybe in your neighborhood, too: roving troublemakers who break into my house, wash my clothes in scalding water, then throw them into the dryer on its hottest setting. How else to explain the increased snugness of my jeans? Well, I guess it could be the fallout from that Bacchanalian bender that I embarked on right around Thanksgiving. I mean Halloween. Fine; it was Labor Day. Get off my back.

Whatever the reason, many people begin damage control once the caloric onslaught of the holidays wanes, which inevitably means smarter food choices. Now, I'm certainly not a nutritionist, but most sentient adults are working with a basic knowledge of what's good for you and what isn't. Obviously, the wisest idea is to prepare your own food at home, but read on for some places around town where filling soups and sprawling salads make for a truly satisfying meal option when you get that restaurant itch.

First, a few pro tips: watch out for those cream-based soups, politely request the dressing on the side if possible, and beware of deep-fried anything on top of your salad. And please let us know about your favorite soup and salad spots. Oh, one more thing: enjoy!

Magnolia's Deli & Café (366 Park Ave., 271-7380, magnoliascafe.com) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and a peek at the menu reveals that Magnolia's is very serious about salads. There are more than 15 meal-worthy combinations of fruits, vegetables, and proteins available, like the Golden Spinach ($9.25), with Golden Delicious apples, pineapple, walnuts, goat cheese, and red onion, offered with honey mustard or Italian dressing. On my last visit I couldn't resist a special called Winter Wonderland ($10.50), an eye-popping mélange of spring greens, sliced almonds, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, mandarin oranges, and feta, topped with a grilled chicken breast and served with balsamic vinaigrette. The handful of soups available was pretty tempting as well.

Where Han Noodle is all white and bright, its brand-new suburban counterpart Bistro Han (687 Moseley Road, Perinton; 223-7333, bistrohan.com) is more akin to its moodier cousin, with jet-black furnishings, sexy swaths of red, and awesome dandelion-esque lamps that look as though you could blow on them to make a wish. Han Noodle and Bistro Han serve many of the same dishes — including those luscious steamed buns filled with braised pork belly, scallions, shallots, peanuts, and pickles ($5) — but I was happy to find my old Chinese restaurant standby, subgum wonton soup ($8), a pristine-looking broth teeming with roast pork, shrimp, chicken, and an array of colorful veggies along with a few plump dumplings.

Most people don't associate Italian restaurants with lighter fare, but Tony D's Coal-Fired Pizza (288 Exchange Blvd., 340-6200, tonydsrochester.com) offers some yummy options for anyone craving the flavors of Italy but hoping to steer clear of carbs. On the menu right now is a roasted vegetable salad ($12) with bell peppers, fennel, radicchio, eggplant, and onions, topped with gorgonzola, toasted almonds, and moscato vinaigrette, but I usually go for the Sicilian-style calamari salad ($11), a simple, elegant blend of tender squid, onions, celery, olives, lemon, and olive oil served over mixed greens. And keep in mind that Tony D's delicious chicken wings ($8/$16) are roasted, not fried.

The menu at the popular South Wedge mainstay Ming's Noodles & Cuisines of Asia (1038 S. Clinton Ave., 244-0985, mingsnoodle.com) has grown positively massive over the years, but I generally gravitate toward the same dish: Soba Tofu Noodle Soup ($6.50), filled with a generous helping of tofu, a gaggle of vegetables, and tasty buckwheat noodles. Of course Ming's also offers the Big Three (that's wonton, hot and sour, and egg drop soups), but here you'll also find lesser-known soups like the comforting West Lake minced beef soup ($2.55/$5.25) along with concoctions spanning the Far East, such as Vietnam's famous pho ($6.50-$7.95), Thailand's spicy tom yum noodle soup ($6.50-$7.95), and Japan's umami-rich miso soup ($1.75-$3.50).

Half Moon Creative Salads (2900 Monroe Ave., 248-4964 and 202 High Point Drive, Victor, 425-4711, halfmoonsalads.com) takes its name from the English translation for mezzaluna, the semicircular bladed utensil that chops together the goodies in Half Moon's creations. This is cool for two reasons: 1. There's a little bit of everything in each bite; and 2. No more unwieldy pieces of lettuce tracking dressing all over your face. Choose from salads like Le Café ($8.79 for the 24 oz. "half head"), containing arugula, red onion, artichoke hearts, sliced almonds, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, and crumbled bleu cheese, or dream up your own from dozens of ingredients. Bonus: all the nutritional information about the salads can be found at Half Moon's website.

"I was surprised that Americans have been so slow to embrace the cooking of Korea," culinary doyenne Ruth Reichl said a New York Times Magazine article from last October. She's right, but I've been doing my part at Sodam Korean Restaurant (900 Jefferson Road, Building 1, 475-9810, sodamkoreanrestaurant.com), which turns out excellent food in a nondescript building at the Genesee Regional Market. My fellow soup lovers ought to put Sodam on their radar; beyond the menu listing for soup and noodles there are a wide variety of broth-based hot pots, with hearty filler like beef short ribs, pork, seafood, and vegetables. On a recent gray day I was totally charmed by Duk Mandu Gook ($9.95), a homey, traditional Korean soup thickened with egg and containing beef, dumplings, scallions, roasted seaweed, and chewy, thinly sliced rice cake.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to food@rochester-citynews.com.

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