SELECTED as one of the best restaurants in the country in thelatest Tico Times Restaurant Guide, Sofia Nuevo Latino inMonteverde, in the north-central region of the country, lives up toexpectations.Let’s begin at the beginning.No, forget that. We’ll go straight to the main course. (Somewould say “go straight to the desserts.” We’ll get there.)Each of the 10 main courses offered sounds tantalizingly good.Three chicken dishes, three fish/seafood dishes, one pork, two beefand one vegetarian cry out to be tried. Decisions. Decisions.Two of us decide for the sweet-and-sour fig-roasted pork loinaccompanied by mashed sweet potato and green-bean picadillo($9.50). This dish is so good, the first taste is followed by a gasp ofsurprise and smiles of delight. Another diner orders the beef tenderloinwith roasted red pepper and cashew sauce with the sameaccompaniments and roasted garlic ($11).A discussion ensues with owner Karen Nielsen on her searchfor and purchase of figs, followed by concern over whether the beefwill come medium-rare as ordered. If it comes perfectly medium-rare,my friend says, “ you can trust the kitchen here.” And you can.THE house specialty, seafood chimichanga, is a medley ofcorvina and shrimp wrapped in a flour tortilla with a light coconutrice, guacamole and chayote squash picadillo on the side. It is simplydelicious ($9). Dishes are decorated with small orchids, andportions are generous.The terracotta floors and blue-green walls are lit by charmingwall sconces ringed with hand-painted flowers. Recessed fairylights illuminate the arched windows, and candles on the tables provideplenty of light to read the menu while adding to the enchantingU.S. southwestern ambiance.Apleasant lounge in front of the bar offers diners a comfortableplace to relax while waiting to be seated. A sunken room on the lefthas been painted periwinkle and gives the restaurant two good diningareas without making it feel like one big room.Waiters and bartender wear black aprons over their clothes,white dress shirts and ties. They move about the tables unobtrusivelyfilling water glasses, taking orders and ensuring all goes well. Acompanion remarks, “They look clean, neat and professional.”BUT back to the real reason we are here: the food and drink.The cocktail list has 11 options, including the Sofia Colada, thehouse specialty made with passion-fruit juice, coconut milk andlight rum blended with dark rum and grated coconut; theLatinopolitan, described as a Latin Cosmopolitian with rum, freshlime juice, Triple Sec and cranberry juice; several fabulous-soundingrum drinks; and even Caipirinha, a drink made with cachaça(Brazilian sugar-cane liquor), macerated fresh limes, sugar and ice.The drink list offers creative concoctions including gingerlemonade, a mixture of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and ginger root, fruit drinks with milk or water, soft drinks,beer and house wines – Trivento MalbecReserve and Trivento Chardonnay Reserveat a reasonable $3.50 a glass. We order thered, which is smooth and delicious.Now, on to an appetizer, soup or salad– or all three.Six appetizers are created from whatmight be best described as fusion cuisine:a little something typically Tico, a littleLatin/Caribbean, a little French. Best ofall, they are recipes that have been createdwith flavor in mind. Owner (and superbchef) Nielsen says, “I love this. I love whatI’m doing.” And it shows in all the attentionto detail.WE share the roasted eggplant, tomatoand goat cheese quesadilla, with goatcheese made right there in Monteverde.One of our companions says, “I hate eggplant,”and then proceeds to wolf down thewhole thing. “My wife is not going tobelieve this,” he adds with a smile.With our meal, we have a merlot ($20)and then launch into the desserts. Wechoose to share two: a chocolate flan and abanana bread pudding with a warm rumraisinsauce that (I’m sorry, I have to saythis) is to die for.After taxes and tip, the bill comes toabout $25 per person and is worth everypenny. Open 11 a.m-11 p.m., Sofia is inthe Cerro Plano on the road to theMonteverde Preserve. At the “crossroads,”turn right. The restaurant is just after theice-cream parlor on the left. Reservationsare a very good idea; call 645-7017 orreserve well in advance by firstname.lastname@example.org.