Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gluttony at Gusto

Don’t believe what you’ve read and go to Gusto. I have to admit, I was deterred by the awful reviews on Citysearch and Menupages (yes, I actually read the reviews on Menupages), but when I went to this tiny Italian bistro in the Village on Saturday night for my birthday dinner, I was not only pleasantly surprised, I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while.

The décor draws you in first, exuding an art deco charm (white brick walls and black granite counters) with a touch of old world luxury (a regal chandelier hangs in the center of the room). You would think with such a stark color palette, a restaurant would feel cold or even worse, trendy. But the small space, dim lighting and homegrown touches like bowls of snap peas and artichokes as décor lend a comforting mood to the handsome space. The result? A warm, fashionable Italian restaurant that defies the contention that good food and high style don’t mix.

At the bar, we were offered a unique list of Italian wines by the glass and since my repertoire of Italian wines is slim, the very cute and very Italian bartender suggested the Pinot Bianco that was light, crisp, like a breath of fresh air and the other a Fangelucci (sp?) that resembled a California Chardonnay being much heavier, complex, oaky but delicious. I was beginning to like this place.

The crowd ranged from Bergdorf Blondes perched at the bar discussing highlights to European men of mystery trying everything on the menu and trying to flag the former’s attention. I spotted a few editors as well, who immediately received complimentary flutes of Prosecco and antipasti.

The menu by far is what makes Gusto what it is. Fried foods have their own section from the ubiquitous calamari and artichokes to the more unconventional squash blossoms and stuffed olives. It’s true that everything is better when it’s fried. Crisp on the outside and sumptuous on the inside, each one is heaven but not too heavy. And entrees? The grilled Branzino or salted cod both perfection. No wonder Mario Batali comes here on his day off. Bon appetito!

Final Word: Try to score a table downstairs in the wine cellar. 60 Greenwich Ave., at Perry St.; 212-924-8000

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