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MANGOES AND MORE -- A SAMPLING OF THE COMINGT TASTE TRENDS

So long, Tiramisu. Hello, mangoes. The hot foods of 1997 will soon be a distant memory as new trends rise to the top in '98.

1998, in fact, is shaping up to be an important year on several fronts.

First, there's that issue of smoking in Erie County restaurants, and second, there's the federal government decision to regulate organic foods -- both issues that will affect a lot of people.

As we slouch toward the millenium, here's an overview of what you can expect when it comes to food, wine and restaurants. There's more than enough to fill our plates.

The 1998 Herb: rosemary. This pungent herb that looks a little like a pine tree and smells a little like one, too. (The 1997 herb, cilantro may have taken early retirement.)

The 1998 Spice: allspice. And no, it's not a combination of flavors, it's a berry all its own. Allspice is commonly used in the Caribbean, especially Jamaican and there's great interest in the cookery of that part of the world. See below.

The Meat: Well we all know it won't be hamburger! We opt for pork tenderloin, now turning up on any restaurant menu near you. Big pluses: When cut into medallions, it cooks fast and can be adapted to all sorts of flavorings.

The Dessert: Panna Cotta , a light silky Italian custard, usually served cold. Goodbye, goodbye Creme Brulee and Tiramisu.. They are selling little packaged Tiramisus in the dairy section of supermarkets now and that will tell you it's the kiss of death. In the trendy dining world anyway.

The Fruit: Mangoes are turning up all over the place these days and when they are good, they're very good. Try to pick one that's soft to the touch. Because when they are bad, they are horrid.

The Vegetable: It's the beet, dear, and stop whining right this minute! Never mind that you always hated them. If you roast beets in the oven (wrapping them in aluminum foil first) they become incredibly sweet.

In fact, the culinary color for '98 is definitely red. The latest Burpee catalog is even featuring a dramatic Ruby Queen corn. It's gorgeous. Which brings us to...

The Wine: Which will continue to come in the usual colors and but the 1998 "in" wine is definitely you know what. Pinot Noir, for instance.

The Cuisine: Latino/ Caribbean is the big thing on both coasts. The biggie in New York City right now is Asia de Cuba (it features Asian and Caribbean flavors and serves orange pineapple ribs, yucca-crusted grouper in miso sauce.)

The Junk Food: Doughnuts -- the most non-PC comestible God ever created. for sure. Even if they tighten border restrictions on the Peace Bridge, those little fried things will infiltrate from our northern neighbors who absolutely are doughnut-obsessed.

We say: Pass the coffee.

The Drink: Single Malt Scotch. Turn your Martini shaker into a lamp or use if to house a bouquet of roses.

The Comeback Food of the year: Eggs. New research indicates that they are neither as high in fat or cholesterol as once was thought and most people can eat them in moderation.

The Convenience Food of 1988: Anything ethnic, but especially when it comes to just-add- water instant meal cups. Even Kraft Foods is getting into the act and introducing a new line of Lunch Breaks with flavors like Pasta Alfredo and an Asian stir-fry of rice and vegetables.

The Buzz Word of 1998: "Organic." Most experts are forecasting a fourfold increase in organic sales during the next decade since USDA finally came out with proposed regulations for the use of the word. The proposals appeared at first to answer the needs of a cutting-edge industry trying to feed the nation's growing appetite for pure products and foods free from chemicals and pesticides.

The government laid out what they considered acceptable in the production, handling and accrediting of a "national organic program" and consumers began hoping that that the patchwork of guidelines that have been effect all around the country will finally be codified. They want to know what they are really getting when they buy organically labelled food. (After all, In many cases, they are paying more for it.)

But proposed rules will not be final until next year and already divisive rumblings have been heard. Opponents are saying that USDA has sidestepped controversial issues like the use of irradiation (see below) and genetically altered crops. Also the use of sewer sludge, and antibiotics in raising livestock. We have not heard the end of this matter.

The Controversy of 1998: Food Irradiation, now approved for wheat/wheat flour, potatoes, pork, spices, fruits, vegetables and poultry and as of this month, red meat. A petition to irradiate seafood is pending.

Food processors like the idea because it make food safe from certain pathogens and helps extend shelf life. Many consumers fear it will make food radio active.

They also claim that the procedure can cause unpleasant sensory changes in some foods and that it can be used an a cover up for poor farming and manufacturering practices.

The Restaurant Trend for the year can be summed up in one word -- petite. Small is beautiful and there's growing interest in little chef-owned and run places like Mark Hutchinson's Hutch's, Giancarlo and Sandra Bruni's Il Fiorentino, the eponymous Kuni's and Alain Jorande and Elizabeth McGuire's Enchante.

At least for a special evening, diners appreciate personal ambience.

The Restaurant Regulation can be summed up in another word -- smoking. Or the lack of it, anyway. In Erie County at least as of tomorrow. smoking in restaurants will virtually be a thing of the past. Restaurant smoking will anly be allowed in separate dining rooms that vent to the outside and there aren't many of them.

According to Don Spasiano, incoming president of the local restaurant association, , most operators are happy with the new reg since restaurants will be cleaner now. Certainly most servers who were absorbing secondary smoke are happy.

Smoking in bars and in tables 15 feet from the front of the bar is still acceptable, however but even that may change.

This may be the handwriting on the wall -- as of tomorrow, the State of California has banned smoking in bars and casinos.

The Food Regulation of the year has to do with milk labeling. By January 1, the dairy industry must switch to a system that eliminates the words "low-fat" from 2 percent milk. Instead, 2 percent will be called "reduced-fat" because it actually has two-thirds the fat of whole milk.

Milk with zero fat will be called "fat-free" or "nonfat," instead of "skim," and 1 percent milk will be "low-fat."

Health advocates say that because the new labels more accurately reflect fat content, they will help consumers take better control of their diets. And that may be so.

But it also may not be so. Research by the Food Marketing Industry seems to indicate that label reading among consumers is going down -- the percentage of shoppers who reported checking the nutrition label the first time they buy the food dropped 4 percent in 1997, the third drop in as many years.

More shoppers seem to making buying decisions based on "factors like taste, value and brand appeal," The Food Channel trend letter noted when reporting on the survey. We say:

Is that really so surprising?

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