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Fast-food alternative serves burgers, fries without the guilt

Ronald McDonald has been a bad clown.

After being vilified by nutritionists and television news magazines for adding some extra love to the nation's handles, McDonald's announced last week that it will eliminate supersized fries and beverages from its menu by the end of this year.

And not a minute too soon. A few days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that obesity is quickly catching up to chain smoking as the top cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

Given all these heavy headlines, we decided to lay off our usual rich cuisine of deep fried calamari and molten chocolate cake for a week and instead be good. Or, more specifically, b.good.

The new Back Bay restaurant, which casts a calorie- and fat-conscious eye at everything from burgers to sesame noodles, promises "" in its motto. In addition to the "," we wouldn't mind seeing some proper grammar ("The food may be real, but the sentences are not," one friend declared). But luckily for b.good, we are more interested in food than sentence structure.

The inspiration for the restaurant, started in January by local 20-somethings Jon Olinto and Anthony Ackil, is Ackil's uncle Faris. Apparently the school chums were spoiled rotten in Faris's kitchen, and when they went looking for the same quality of victuals at fast-food joints, they found themselves sorely disappointed. The mission for b.good is to beat Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and Mayor McCheese at their own game by making fast food that tastes good and is good for you.

Almost every item on the menu, from the Cousin Oliver burger to the honey mustard chicken sandwich, lists fat content (both saturated and unsaturated), plus the calorie count. The only place on the menu where these numbers were suspiciously missing were under the milkshakes and fruitshakes. Nothing on the menu is over $8.

So how does healthy fast food measure up to the real thing? Because the fries are oven-baked, not deep fried, they lack the crispness of the mass-produced variety. But because they lack the saturated fat content, you don't feel the need to run for an hour on the treadmill like a caffeinated hamster after consuming them. The condiments on top of the Southwestern veggie burger are an inventive change from the norm, including healthy amounts of tomato, avocado, cilantro, and chipotle salsa. But the homemade bean patty was a touch mealy.

Folks looking for a substitute for their Whopper or Filet O' Fish will probably come away unsatisfied. The house-roasted turkey dinner isn't exactly a McNugget Happy Meal. But for those of us who swore off all fast food after reading Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," b.good offers a guilt-free alternative to the shame of the drive thru. And despite its healthy mandate, there are a few areas where b.good easily trumps its competition. The milkshakes and fruitshakes are required drinking, particularly the vanilla (made with nonfat frozen yogurt and skim milk), which tastes remarkably like malted vanilla.

There are no aspirations in b.good's decor to be anything more than a place to grab a quick bite, although we were pleased to see a community table where health conscious folks can flirt over their Asian chicken salads. The food is clearly the focus here. Unlike its competitors, b.good doesn't clown around when it comes to making sure that it's customers are eating healthfully.

b.good, 131 Dartmouth St., 617-424-5252.

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