Now in my fourth year living in Rochester, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find a restaurant that slightly resembles my home-cooked meals. Being a native South American, food is a part of my culture, my childhood, my identity. Taco Bell never came close to fulfilling that void. This void remained empty until last Thursday when I went to Tapas 177 Lounge right on St. Paul Street near the High Falls District.

Out in town for a casual evening, my guest and I strolled into the charming Spanish restaurant. Although a simplistic and mundane exterior, stepping into Tapas feels like you’re stepping into a contemporary district in Madrid. A fully stocked bar located near the main entrance allows customers to have a cocktail before engaging in an authentic meal. Fast-forward 15 minutes, post-fantastic cocktails, we were escorted down a set of stairs leading to the main dining area. Albeit dark, the dim lighting adds a touch of mystery when eating and conversing, while authentic old school Spanish music plays in the background.

Just a glimpse at the menu and you wouldn’t even think you’re in Rochester. Scallops, dumplings, ceviche, empanadas, tuna – and that’s only on the appetizer list, or “tapas.” Shrimp, beef, tofu, paella, marlin and ostrich – yes, I said ostrich – as entrees, the menu was a joy to read for both my eyes and my growing appetite. Mental debate after debate, I finally ordered the prosciutto wrapped artichoke hearts. Filled with a rich gorgonzola sage cream sauce, pine nuts and parmesan, I felt hesitant to share a portion of my appetizer with my guest, as the artichoke hearts melted in my mouth. For an entree, I couldn’t help but give the ostrich a try. Personally, this was my first time ingesting the odd-looking bird and mark my words, it will not be the last. Ordered medium-cooked, the tender ostrich was glazed with brandy and red wine and served with a side of potatoes au gratin and grilled asparagus. I kept my conversation to a minimum while I indulged in some much needed off-campus food. If you are of legal age, I also highly recommend a smooth rioja wine with your meal to top it off.

Toward the end of our meal, people began lining up near the downstairs bar and the music became ever-so-slightly louder. The next thing we knew, people of all backgrounds were attempting to salsa dance and quite the site it was, a flamboyant dancing instructor with about 40 nearly-rhythmless folk. Perhaps next time I’ll head on over and partake in a little salsa-dancing myself. And repeat after me everyone, “No quiero Taco Bell.”

Buitrago can be reached at

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