A love letter to Leaf Kitchen’s Cubano

A few hours after I ate it, the taste still lingered in my mouth, like a lover’s perfume on your clothes.
I love Leaf Kitchen’s “Cubano,” their version of the classic Cuban ham-and-cheese sandwich.

I know that the verb “love” is much abused, particularly when applied to food, but it’s the best word I can come up with for the eroticism inspired in me by this particular combination of soft grilled white-wine garlic bread, braised pork, caramelized onions, melty swiss cheese, and thinly-sliced pickles.

I was sitting in a sunbeam at one of Leaf’s quaint tables, drinking coffee and chatting with a friend; beautiful 1960s soul music was humming in the background (the mixture of jazz, soul, and world music at Leaf is eerily impeccable). Our Cubanos arrived with little dipping sauces, an aioli and a green salsa. I’d ordered mine with the optional fried egg, which adds yet another layer to its strata of softnesses.

There’s a charming scene in the great Spanish director Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty where house guests sit together in a circle on toilets but excuse themselves to private cubicles to eat their food. I have no desire to shit with friends, but during that lunch at Leaf a part of me did want to check into some private room to be alone with my sandwich and its sauces. A few hours after I ate it, the taste still lingered in my mouth, like a lover’s perfume on your clothes.

It’s no surprise that Masae–Leaf’s mastermind chef who regularly serves up deliciousness–has found such an inspired balance of tastes for her Cubano. Few chefs, particularly in our area, have her sense of how to achieve depth of flavor by using just the right ingredients in just the right way. Needless to say, Cuban sandwiches are always delicious. It’s hard to make roast pork, melty swiss cheese, and pickles taste anything but glorious. But it takes genius to transform these big flavors into something intimate, something that insinuates itself into the memory.

I should mention that the Cubano isn’t a permanent feature of Leaf’s menu; it’s more like a fairly regular special. In one sense, it’s too bad not to have the Cubano printed beside her yummy Quiche of the Day or Curry Chicken Salad. But a little elusiveness is good for love.

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