Exhibit A that Roslindale Square is the new South End
by Robert Nadeau
Remember Garret Morris's great bit on Saturday Night
Live about sending your fondue sets to Namibia? When I first heard that the
owners of the South End's tony Icarus were opening a
restaurant in Roslindale Square, it certainly sounded like missionary work.
But, in fact, the square has recently established itself as an affordable,
tolerant, and chic new version of the old South End, and this open-kitchen
bistro has rekindled some of the excitement of the original,
no-sign-on-the-door Icarus, a pioneer on restaurant row back when Gordon
Hamersley was still in chef school. Getting away from the elaborate South End
menu and focusing on Italian food and wine makes Gusto not only cheaper than
Icarus, but also more approachable, more fun, and, for my money, more
satisfying. And you can park in Roslindale Square. This may be the best
restaurant in Greater Boston where you can still park across the street.
4174 Washington Street, Roslindale
Open for dinner Tues-Sat, 5-10 p.m.
Beer and wine
The only South End thing about Gusto is that they take reservations only for
groups of five or more (and then tack on an automatic 15 percent
gratuity/service charge), and only on the same day. These rules favor the
neighborhood: if the line is too long, your only back-up is the Roslindale
House of Pizza two doors down.
The breadbasket starts things off right: peppery onion pizza and excellent
Tuscan bread with butter. There was no olive oil, but I didn't miss it. In the
appetizer category, don't you miss the crimini mushroom and asiago tart
($7.50), a creamy quiche full of flavor that wouldn't be out of place for twice
the money at Rialto, so meltingly rich was the pastry. The pizzette of the day
($9) was pear-gorgonzola, a great topping on a pretty fair crust.
Other good ways to start included a salad of arugula and herbs ($6.50) with a
perfect balsamic dressing, and a caesar salad with lime and chili hidden in the
dressing for a Southwestern twist. Grilled shrimp on skewers ($10.50) were
wrapped with bacon for extra crunch and flavor. Balsamic eggplant, black-olive
tapenade, asparagus, eggplant caviar, pickled onion, fresh mozzarella, and
artichoke hearts made up a super vegetarian antipasto platter ($9) that was
marred only by underdone Tuscan white beans.
The outstanding entrée was scallops with porcini risotto ($16). The
risotto was regular rice cooked in stock, with not much porcini, but none of
that crunchy stuff either. It made an ideal setting for the superb seared
scallops. North Italian veal stew ($16) with mushrooms verged on veal
paprikás in its richness -- I guess Austria-Hungary could be considered
North North Italian, if you tilt the map in a hungry enough way. Get another
round of the Tuscan bread for this one.
Braised pork ($15) was a little dried out, but tender and flavorful, the only
problem being those underdone white beans. Grilled lemon-rosemary chicken, a
dish many use to rate a kitchen, ranked high. The half-chicken was tender
throughout, with a pleasant crust and herbs tucked under the skin of some
pieces, in a tricky sauce that might have had a little soy. With a fancy
cabbage slaw and some puréed squash, it doesn't get much better than
Cioppino ($17.50) had a good mix of fresh seafood in a somewhat bland fennel
broth. Tomatoes wouldn't have hurt, but the essence of these fish stews lies in
a stronger fish or shellfish stock than this one delivered. Penne with grilled
vegetables ($12) offered a good vegetarian choice for this crunchy
neighborhood, with the summer squash standing out in the mix.
The wine list is short but reasonably priced (six bottles under $20). We tried
the house chianti ($4.75 per glass, $10 per half-liter, $19 per liter), which
was clean but very generic. Besides wine, there's fizzy San Pellegrino water,
plus a good variety of well-made teas and coffees for $1.75 each.
A hit among the outstanding desserts was the flourless chocolate torte ($5.50):
a killer fudgy concoction with just enough crust and an undertone of orange,
plus real whipped cream to lighten (!) some mouthfuls. Even more impressive was
the panna cotta ($5), literally "cooked cream," prepared using a little gelatin
and decorated with an exquisite caramel sauce and mint zabaglione. The
chocolate cannoli ($5) had wonderful crispy shells, but I don't think ricotta
cheese carries the taste of chocolate well. Lovers of chocolate cheesecake
obviously will disagree.
Gusto is a den-like little place where, once you sit down, you can't look
around all that well. The walls are Tuscan ochre with dark wood, and the
granite café tables fit in nicely. A high shelf above the opening to the
kitchen holds a variety of Italian signifiers, from cookbooks to jars of
pickles, and some orchids and pumpkins arranged about the room convey color,
clutter, and appetizing thoughts.
The initial crowd look like recent arrivals to the neighborhood -- young
couples, some gay or lesbian, happy and talkative. Service is helpful and
available (it's never a long walk from the kitchen). Our waiter was taking
elementary Italian, and this restaurant made that seem like a good idea for all
of us. Gusto isn't big enough to be really loud, although the jazz soundtrack
only sometimes came through the noise of the other diners. I have to say that
most of my attention was on the food, not the surroundings, and most of the
food rewarded that kind of attention. Put the crimini tart, grilled chicken,
and panna cotta on the table, and I'll take that table no matter where it is.
That Gusto has put some of those tables in Roslindale Square should be an
example to residential neighborhoods all over Greater Boston. Accept no less!
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
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