Can you be overflowed with art? My afternoon started with a lecture on the dawn of Cubism (when abstracts paintings were still somewhat legible if you really try hard to make sense out of it). At 3 I rode in the car with my physics professor and advisor across the countryside to downtown Houston, filled our eyes with sight of uniform corn fields, carpets of bluebonnet (yes, they’re still out and blooming!), and relaxing cattle. At 5 we reached the Wortham center garage, parking for the Rigoletto performance later in the evening. At 5:10 we were at Artista, 2 blocks down the street. It’s owned by a Nicaraguan family, featuring South American dishes, ranging from high class to what you might find around the corner for a good tummy-filler. So I’ve heard. You’ve gotta have a nice dinner before an opera, spend your TA check of the week on a single meal, and feel good, right?

    Act I: chupe. “maine lobster bisque, charred tomato and smoked panela cheese” is what on the menu.

    I found lobster, corn, rice, and mysterious white cubes underneath the calm surface. Not unexpectedly, it was thick, a little peppery, just luke warm, and cries South American. The most interesting thing was the white cubes, which taste very much like tofu, except for the extra firmness, or perhaps the almost gummy-bear texture, plain and pure. Was that the panela cheese?

    Act II: churrasco. I saw it on almost every dinner banquet menu, and I like my meat, so why not?

    Beautiful combination of colors. At the left we have béarnaise, made from egg yolk and spices, but by itself it really doesn’t have much of taste other than fatty. In the middle, just a simple steak. On the right, (roasted ?) ripe plantain. This is the best thing. I had to sacrifice the meat to have room for the plantain. It was sweet and compact. It enhances the steak. Oh, did I forget to mention that we had plantain chips while waiting? So much better than potato chips and corn chips. Thin and crisp, but they break nicely, you don’t get a mount of crumbs in front of you. The Dominican in our group told us that they make the chips from green plantain, and keep the ripe ones for side dishes (like with the churrasco) and for dessert.

    Now I couldn’t take a picture of my dessert because there wasn’t enough light. Half of the group was persuaded into getting the Tres Leches, and was very happy they did. A sponge cake soaked in milk it was, but it is much lighter than it sounds. The Dominican said that it’s their best dessert, the final touch that makes you come back, the ultimate satisfaction that you must have before you die. Well, it was good. But I like my rich cocoa tart with “fudge and chocolate ganache and coconut ice cream”, which was absolutely not coconut, but more like sweetsop sorbet. (Don’t let the name fool you, sweetsop, i.e. sugar-apple, is neither sweet nor apple, but rather pulpy and a little sour, and beware of the seeds if you’re eating the fresh one.) Well, does this swapping of tropical flavors occur on regular basis? I don’t know. I did enjoy my “coconut ice cream” very much, and the chocolate quiche too, but each on their own. The combination wasn’t a good match.

    We were an assorted group of 15, several Americans, a Swiss, a Dominican, a Peruvian, a Mexican, a Vietnamese, a lot of wine, and different levels of cuisine adventurousness. Guess how much was on the bill? 1186 dollars and some. Well, of course it got that high because Dr. Agnolet and Sandi were kind enough to pay for most of it. But, there you go, physics students don’t always eat cheap. 😉

    See the menu.

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