Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Trade Secrets

Tips on dining in and dining out

What's for lunch?

A Cuban sandwich at the Little Havana in Over-the-Rhine.

This classic from Cuba is known to many who've eaten them in loncherias in South Florida. It starts like a sub: layered roast pork, ham, provolone and pickle in a crusty roll from a Mexican bakery. Then it's pressed and grilled in a sandwich press, which melts the cheese, warms the meat and makes it crusty all over. It's not especially exotic, and it's not spicy at all. But there's something about the particular blend of flavors and crustiness that makes it worth a trip to Main Street to try it.

You can get a sandwich to go or eat in the small storefront. Owner Rafael Alvarez, who's also the lead singer in the salsa band Son de Caribe, is opening a second Little Havana on Short Vine in Corryville in mid-May.

Little Havana is at 1210 Main St. 241-3605.

Required Reading

The latest book of food essays from Calvin Trillin is out: Feeding a Yen (Random House; $22.95). He's as fun to read as ever. Trillin was the first of the food-obsessive essayists - before the Sterns, before Jeffrey Steingarten, before He invented the genre and many of its conventions. Anyone who writes about a search for the perfect version of some variety of street food or sandwich, who writes about folk cuisine with the kind of detailed description originated by wine writers, who has an indulgent spouse and a travel budget, owes Trillin and his essays, many of which originally appeared in The New Yorker.

Trillin is the best writer in the genre, bringing just the right irony to the subject, and a genuine affection for people and places, especially New York. He didn't originally set out on his travels to eat, but to write on other topics for The New Yorker, so his devotion doesn't seem out of proportion to real life. He has a most endearing affection for his daughters and his late wife Alice.

In this volume, he looks for bagels that might lure his daughter back to New York, is disappointed in a nicoise pan bagnat, eats ceviche in Ecuador, revisits Cajun boudin and returns to Kansas City, his hometown and the home, as he once claimed, of "the best restaurants in the world."

Calvin Trillin will sign books at 1 p.m. May 18 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood (396-8960); and again at 7 p.m. May 20 at Books & Co. in Dayton (800-777-4881).

We Tried It

Hershey's has come out for the first time with sugar-free chocolate: Hershey milk and dark chocolate, Hershey's with almonds and Reese's Cups, all in miniature versions.

Sweetened with the sugar substitute lactitol, they're not low in fat or carbohydrate-free, although they have 19 percent fewer calories. They are mainly made for people with diabetes.

And they taste surprisingly ... not horrible. In fact, several normally sugar-eating people tried them and didn't realize they were sugar-free. The candies perhaps have less depth of flavor, but there's no bitter after-taste or diet soda-chemical bouquet.

For a careful diabetic, they are far, far better than nothing. (I'm still waiting for a sugar-free version of France's grand chocolate, Valrhona.)

Hershey's sugar-free chocolates are $1.99 for a 3.3-ounce bag.

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