Location: 101 Portland St, Toronto, ON
Executive chef: Daniel Mezzolo
Price point: $-$$$
What can I say, dining at Gusto 101 has been a long time in the making. From their popular Arancini, to their dollar an ounce wine, to the new retractable rooftop patio, where better to celebrate my champagne birthday? That’s a rhetorical question…
When I arrived with three of my best girlfriends, it was 9 p.m. on a Saturday and there were people everywhere. It was buzzing, and electric and as I overheard a woman tell guests it was a two hour wait, I instantly knew this was one hell of a hot spot. We were then greeted by a woman who plugged the name of my reservation into her nifty little iPad, and with much thanks to owner Janet Zuccarini for the reso, we were escorted to our table in a mater of minutes.
As we walked through the hustle and bustle of the restaurant, I couldn’t help but be mesmorized by the rustic, industrial décor. It was a sight for sore eyes, especially knowing it was once an auto body shop. Everything from the draping lamps, to the cinder block and exposed brick walls, to the clipboard menus were unique and had its rightful place.
Once seated, our server came over with a complimentary bread basket, a bottle of flat water, and highly recommended a couple of their most popular appetizers. With that being said, we started the evening off with the Mozzarella di Bufala, which is a fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomato and arugula salad, drizzled with basil oil and topped with a smoked paprika and Parmesan crisp. To accompany the salad, we also got the Arancini, which are mini deep-fried risotto balls made with Arborio rice, wild mushrooms and Fontina cheese, placed in a tomato sauce.
To drink, was Gusto’s very own Gusto Rosso, a Cabernet Sauvignon & Malbec designed by winemaker Alejandra de Miguel. It was delicious and best of all, it was only a dollar an ounce…now that’s raising the bar, pardon the pun. But Gusto offers two house wines on tap, the Gusto Rosso and the Gusto Bianco, which is a Pinot Grigio all for a dollar an ounce, something not too many restaurants offer…brownie points! We too had a glass of the Gusto Bianco and it was great, not overly dry like a lot of pinots so it was refreshing.
Then after a couple glasses of wine our apps came, and by no means am I insinuating we were waiting for a long period of time, we were just thirsty.
The Arancini was beautifully plated and literally to die for! The warm, crisp exterior was immaculate but the wild mushroom risotto paired with Fontina was the star of the dish. The earthy and predominant flavour of the wild mushrooms was mouthwatering but somehow subtle, and then dipped in the tomato sauce gave it just enough sweetness and freshness to balance out the dish.
Next was the Mozzarella di Bufala, it was fresh and subtle, and a perfect pallet cleanser. The basil oil gave it the zing it needed, and then paired with the smoked paprika and Parmesan crisp, it brought the dish to life and added much needed texture.
After devouring our appetizers, and carefully inspecting the rustic clip-board menu’s, I finally decided on the Spaghetti Chitarra allo Scoglio, which is a house made spaghetti with shrimp, baby scallops, mussels and clams in a white wine, tomato sauce.
When the dish arrived, the aroma made me weak in the knees and the presentation was beautiful. Digging in, the pasta was much thicker than the average spaghetti noodle, making it extremely filling. At first it was slightly too al dente for my liking, but after a couple bites I quite enjoyed the texture. It was authentic spaghetti, not something you get to indulge in everyday, and that on it’s own was marvelously enjoyable.
The white wine tomato sauce was spectacular, seasoned perfectly and complimenting the richness from the seafood quite beautifully. In terms of the seafood, the shrimp were way too well done and in all honesty, uneatable. I’m also not a fan of baby scallops so I knew I wasn’t going to care for them, but on top of them being miniature, they were gritty and much like the shrimp, uneatable. The clams and mussels were beautifully cooked, and of a good substantial size, making up for the disappointing shrimp and scallops.
Unfortunately, there were some downfalls in regards to the service department. One being when our server cleared all of my guest’s dishes while I was still eating…forcing me to either hurry up or eat alone, both of which completely put me off. My second issue was when another server brought over my main course, I was taking photos of the other dishes, which really isn’t too uncommon in this day and age, and the server made a comment regarding “Instagram,” in a sly, ditsy manner. I brushed it off the first time, but when he said it a second time while placing down our dessert, it was obvious he was mocking me…again, completely putting me off.
However, there were many more memorable moments during the evening than the downfalls, in which case I let them go. When it came time for dessert, we got the Dolci Platter, and in substitution of the house made biscotti, we got decadent macarons. In the Dolci Platter we got limoncello with lemon air, pop rocks and candied celery, a chocolate sponge toffee cake, and a hazelnut coffee mousse. Everything was delicious, but the limoncello with pop rocks and candied celery was some crazy ‘Chopped,’ style creation that I couldn’t get enough of. Although I’m typically not much of a sweets girl unless macarons or creativity are involved, this dish made one happy camper!
Overall my evening was spectacular. I ate great food, drank great wine, and it was all in the company of great friends. Not too mention the shot of Grappa that I was so privileged to have received for my birthday got me feeling pretty good, and was certainly a great way to wrap up the night. I cannot wait to return and bask in the ambiance of the new retractable roof-top patio while drinking Gusto Rosso and indulging in authentic Italian pizza. It was a pleasure Janet, until next time.