We ventured to Gusto one Tuesday evening. The place is tucked in on Portland and almost Adelaide, two minute walk from Ma Cherie's work. We remember it being extensively renovated for few months, but the results of this inconvenience are definitely worth seeing. If you love 50s-60s vintage signs, industrial / mechanical theming and abundance of iron-clad surfaces; Gusto is your place to visit.
You may pass by Gusto without noticing it. It is both good (for the people already knowing where it is) and bad (for the folks yet to discover the place). There are few reasons for that: the restaurant is not very wide, but fairly deep, resembling an elongated garage shape; the visitors on the first floor patio are shielded by some shrubs and are not very visible to passersby; lastly, the Gusto sign is finished in muted tones and can easily be missed when walking up or down Portland.
Our reservation was on a second floor patio and we walked straight up. The vintage feel upstairs was further accented by large concrete patio stones lining the floor (some were shaky) and aluminum furniture. We noticed a skylight in the middle of the area resembling a Louvre pyramid concoction of glass and steel albeit a lot smaller. There were bar stools around that section and a lively crowd.
We got our seat right under a large Good Year sign. Behind us was a wall clad in rusting iron and adorned with a mesh for plants to climb on. The new HVAC ducts right above were not fitting the picture well, but besides that, the interior was well thought out.
Our waitress was attentive, but unfortunately did not know much about the wines offered. We were curious to know more about Gusto’s own home wine which was made on premises and came in Reserve brand as well. We ended up ordering a jar of Reserve. The aging for it is apparently in the basement and we saw some barrels while exploring the private party room downstairs. A very good touch for a restaurant in terms of adding a hint of originality to their offering, but hardly the best way to age wine – right in a potentially often used room with uneven humidity, lighting and constantly changing temperature. But we might have misunderstood, maybe not all their Reserve is stored there. The house wine was apparently simply placed in mini-barrels right at the bar.
We first asked to try their two house wines (white, red). While the house offerings were very reasonably priced, we found the white too sweet and warm, the red appeared to be more acidic than we wanted with a hint of vinegar in its taste. We narrowed down on a half-liter of Reserve at the end. It was very strongly oaked, spicy, but with a relatively weak finish. Still a decent choice for the price.
We got a paper bag of bread after agreeing that we want some. The wine arrived next along with a side of Tuscan fries. The drink was served in an interesting container imitative an amphora. As far as fries went, we received them with chipotle lime salt and a side of tomato-based rosemary dip. Our other choices were Braised Ontario Rabbit with mafalda pasta and fennel pollen plus Braised Ontario Lamb with tomato, green olives, pecorino and gremolata. To our taste, the rabbit dish had a smell of chicken noodle soup - lots of chicken stock, some chopped carrots, celery. It was a fairly straightforward dish on a heavier side with fennel pollen hard to notice. The meat was tender and tasted like it was pulled. At the same time we felt that it lost its identity, it almost tasted like chicken. The lamb was not overly opinionated, a good thing for those of us not found of the smell, but with a healthy dose of hard pasta and tomato sauce. Both dishes were large enough to be shared and might have been a better choice for an evening out in a more formal setting. Although our Reserve wine proved to be a workable choice for both, the sunny patio ambiance deserved something lighter to savor.
We left Gusto full and happy. The meals are wholesome and the interior kept us entertained. Their patio is one of top rated Toronto venues and for a good reason – there was some serious thought put behind the décor and functionality of it. Definitely a worthwhile place to check out while it is still warm outside. We will likely be back here later in the year to fully check out their interior dining options.