Food in the Nude

The soft-shell crawfish in the taquito appetizer ($8) at Artista (800 Bagby, 713-226-7827) looks like the centerfold spread of an erotic shellfish magazine. Every scrap of exoskeleton has been carefully removed, and the nude remainder of rosy flesh lies appealingly on a soft flour tortilla instead of a bearskin rug. Also underneath the crawfish are hearts of romaine and shredded purple cabbage, chopped cilantro, chunks of avocado and crisp rice noodles. Yes, it's picture-perfect, but the taste is more than meets the eye. The crawfish, which is marinated in Tabasco before being dusted with cornstarch and lightly fried, is accompanied by small dollops of jalapeño tartar sauce and hoisin-based plum sauce, both made fresh at the restaurant. Add to that a pickled mix of onions, habaneros and toasted sesame seeds, and this dish tugs at every taste bud. The taquitos come two to an order, although some customers ignore the rest of the menu and just have two orders for dinner. The complicated blend of flavors and satisfying crunch in every bite is enough to make you forget to order an entrée.