L.A foodies nodded their heads in avid agreement when S. Irene Virbila (food critic for the L.A Times) remarked that "Gusto is some of the best Italian cooking in L.A. in a long time".
Since leaving Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel and opening up Gusto in May, chef Victor Casanova has been preparing deliciously rustic Italian food for the lucky patrons of West Hollywood. The dining experience in this cozy restaurant is clearly as unforgettable as chef Casanova's name. With ambient lighting, a mix of eclectic music and astonishingly reasonable prices, Casanova has us wooed.
The menu is ever-changing, and since its conception there have been almost 20 items that have been switched around, which makes every visit new and exciting. Only the freshest seasonal ingredients inspire each dish and the unpretentious combinations are mouth watering.
The Fig and Burrata Salad [$12] showcased the season's figs and a rich balsamic enhanced the sweet tanginess of the soft fruit. The creamy burrata was drizzled in a young olive oil which was almost as peppery as the arugula leaves. The pepperiness was perfect with the sweet, strawberry-like tang of the fig.
The Halibut [$28] with fennel, olives and grapefruit was like a sunny day on the southern coast of Italy. The floral accent of the fennel and the citrusy zest of the pink grapefruit were delightfully refreshing and perfumed. The halibut was flakey and moist with a lightly golden crisp which fell apart like a sandcastle might at the touch of my fork. And the olives were a taste of the mediterranean with the same salinity of the sea.
Agnolloti [$15] with english peas, ricotta, mint and lemon burro fuso was a beautifully rustic taste of the garden. The ravioli were small and firm and the vibrantly green pea tendrils strewn about the dish so gorgeously seasonal that I imagined flowers in my hair. The lemon butter sauce absorbed right into the soft ricotta and pea puree so that the impossible freshness of the ingredients seemed to dance together in reverie.
Braciole [$25] pork shoulder braised in tomato sauce and dandelion greens was exquisite. The succulent meat was sweet from hours of braising in herbaceous tomato sauce and dandelions and still retained a significant heartiness. The ragu and swiss chard enveloped everything in a warmth that made this pork shoulder stand out to me as true Italian cooking at its best.
Polipo [$12] charred baby octopus with chickpeas and harissa was a brilliant snack. It was a treat to see the octopus in full-form (no pun intended) and the soft chewiness of the mollusk was balanced by the crispness of the char. The chickpeas were full of spice and flavor yet never overpowered the mildly refined taste of octopus.
Polpette Pork Meatballs [$13] were delicately dressed with thyme and marinara sauce, sprinkled with cheese, on a cloud of whipped ricotta cheese. For heaven's sake. They were melt-in-your-mouth juicy.
Ricotta Gnocchi [$17] with wild mushrooms, marsala and thyme was lighter than anticipated. None of that over the top creamy mushroom sauce invaded the plate. The beauty of Casanova's dishes lies in his ability to accentuate the quality of the ingredients while never masking them. The potato gnocchi was firm but not heavy and the medley of mushrooms was magnificent with the sweet marsala wine sauce.
For dessert, I recommend the Coconut Gelato Pie. It is a pleasingly cold slice of coconut gelato on top of a graham cracker crust. The milky and sweet ice cream with textured fragments of toasted coconut proved to be an unexpected delight and perfect for summer.
At Gusto, the food is made with love and care and with complete faith in the quality of what goes into it. Extraordinary ingredients and a creative menu are proving to be a real must these days and here, Angelenos can revel in everything from fresh figs and heirloom tomatoes to the freshest, house made pasta. Better learn to share the spotlight, you geniuses at Pizza Mozza...it seems you have found a worthy rival in Mr. Casanova.