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TABLE HOPPING

Slim pickings

"Slim down" is the order from the top. US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson declared that Americans are too fat and called for a slimmer, more active population. Well, dieting may be the main topic of water cooler conversation these days, but following a regimen is never popular.

That's particularly true if it means cutting out all the fun of going to restaurants. Before you hunker down to a water-and-lettuce routine in your own kitchen, remember that one of the recommendations of nutritionists is to cut down on portion size. Restaurants have been accommodating eaters for years, serving pounds of pasta and large cuts of meat.

But there is a new craze for small plates -- tapas-sized portions to nibble with a glass of wine, meze plates to share with friends. Often these are the most imaginative dishes on a menu. So when you do go out, try to stay true to lighter eating by thinking small.

1. La Morra

48 Boylston St. (Route 9)

Brookline

617-739-0007

This stylish new place near Brookline Village makes it easy to eat in miniature. A selection of cicchetti, or Venetian snacks, offers just the right size for a couple of bites. A pate of chicken and duck livers is creamy and filling. Tuscan meatballs with porcini or salt cod give you a quick burst of protein. And then there's a little plate of pickled vegetables to fill other dietary needs. The prices for these little plates only go up to $4 and they are small, so maybe you could indulge in a hearty ribollita, a Tuscan bread soup, or a tasty pasta to share to round out the meal. Appetizer and pasta prices range up to $10.

2. Tasca

1612 Commonwealth Ave.

Brighton

617-730-8002

Tapas are perfect for the small-portion diet plan. Orginally designed to get patrons of bars in Spain to drink more, they've evolved into everyone's favorite snack plates. This friendly place with Spanish guitar music on some nights has a full list of tapas, as well as more substantial fare. But who would move past the small stuff when you can have spicy shrimp in garlic for $5.75, or a roast duck leg over red cabbage for the same amount. Even a petite filet mignon over mushrooms is only $5.95. Who could want for more?

3. Figs

42 Charles St., Beacon Hill

Boston

617-742-3447

67 Main St.

Charlestown

617-242-2229

1208 Boylston St.

Chestnut Hill

617-738-9992

Pizza and eating in moderation would not seem to go together. But Todd English long ago perfected a thin-crust pizza that is all about elegance and as far away from the thick, greasy pizza shop variety as can be imagined. If you settle into one of his chic restaurants, you can nibble on a bountiful salad, then share a pizza -- maybe one featuring white clams or another with fig and prosciutto. The pizzas range up to about $18 and can feed two or even three, if portion-control is the aim.

4. Meritage

70 Rowes Wharf

Boston Harbor Hotel, Boston

617-439-3995

In a delightful change from hotel dining, chef Daniel Bruce matches wine to food, giving diners options of small plates or large. Pan-seared scallops over Macomber turnip puree and pink grapefruit essence can be matched to a light wine; mint-roasted squab with a red rice and spinach tian would fit well with a glass of fruity red, or red-wine-braised short ribs and gnocchi with a robust red. They are feasts on a smaller scale. Who said cutting portion size had to be painful. Small plates are just $15, too, making the experience even more enjoyable.

5. Teriyaki House

32 West Broadway

South Boston

617-269-2000

This newish restaurant is a breakthrough for Southie. With an emphasis on vegetables and a sushi bar, it's a far cry from the fish-and-chips stereotype of the neighborhood. Which makes it a boon for those cutting back. Sushi is mostly protein with just a touch of carbohydrates from the rice, so that's a good bet. For sharing, there are combination platters for $25, or individual orders starting at $9. But other dishes, such as a beef udon noodle soup with lean beef and vegetables, might fit the not-so-filling need, too. And at under $6.50, the soups hardly put a dent in your budget, leaving more money for health club dues.

6. Chez Henri

1 Shepard St., Cambridge

617-354-8980

Cubano sandwiches are too scrumptious to give up on entirely, and Chez Henri's are among the best. The combination of several types of pork with pickles and sauce, grilled inside bread, can convert anyone to eating at the little bar. Split one if you are worried about the calories or choose onion soup or maybe a duck tamale. Prices for the bar menu stay comfortably under $13 so you can stock up on fresh veggies the next day.

ALISON ARNETT

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