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Manhattan

Gusto No Me Gusta (long)

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Gusto No Me Gusta (long)

Bomboloni | Aug 1, 2005 01:54 AM

When faced with dining disappointments, I usually look for the silver linings—at least I was able to sate my appetite and didn’t have to do any dishes when the meal was over. At least the servers were friendly. At least the seats were comfortable. As a result I have never felt compelled to submit a critical post to any web-site. Up until now. After eating at Gusto this evening, about all I can say in favor of the restaurant is that the banquette on which we were seated seemed positively orthopedic. Which was a good thing because in spite of the fact that the restaurant was half-full when my husband and I arrived and nearly empty by the time we left, we had to wait and wait. Still, I started out with high hopes. Not far from where we were seated, there was a tantalizing selection of cheeses that sat next to a pyramid of picture-perfect peaches. If this simple, seasonal still-life was a harbinger of things to come, then we had reason to be hopeful. We spent some time deliberating over the menu which the host gave us right after he sat us at a roomy table towards the back of the restaurant. As we perused, we thought several items sounded good, but on a hot summer night, it seemed prudent to limit ourselves to just three appetizers and two main courses. We also had some questions, but when our unsmiling waiter approached several minutes later, all he wanted to know was whether we would be having cocktails. When we told him we would be ordering wine, he seemed disappointed and skulked off. Eventually, he returned to tell us about some specials, none of which inspired any enthusiasm on his part. When he was finished with his recitation, my husband asked him what was in the seafood salad. “I’ll have to check,” he told us reluctantly. He came back, rattled off the ingredients, informed us that they had just run out of the salad “about fifteen minutes ago”, and left us to ponder. Several minutes later he listlessly wandered back in our direction and we told him we were ready to order. My husband said that he would like to start with the fried squash blossoms. “No squash blossoms but the kitchen can do fried zucchini chips if you are interested” we were told. No thanks, we said. We successfully placed the rest of our order and then asked get some bread. “No problem,” our waiter said. Five minutes passed. No bread. We asked a bus boy. Ten minutes. Still, no bread. Our waiter deigned to pay us another visit and we submitted our request once again. Finally, bread appeared. After we had polished off a couple of slices and finished the bottle of flat water that we ordered when we sat down, our appetizers arrived. Nursing fond memories of a tangy and creamy Burrata I had enjoyed several months ago, I had ordered the Burrata mozzarella with roasted peppers and arugula. The dish that I was brought featured a tough, stringy mass of cheese with a decidedly sour taste. The peppers were decent but the two sprigs of arugula were not dressed and added little to the dish. Nothing on the plate was seasoned, so I had to make liberal use of the little dish of salt that had been brought out with a plate of radishes while we were waiting to order. My husband had ordered two appetizers: the cuttlefish, which was passable, and the fried artichokes, the leaves of which were brittle, tasteless chips, the hearts and stems of which were mushy. While we were eating our apps, a bus boy happened upon our table and seeing that my water glass was half-empty promptly began to fill it with iced tap-water. When I told him that we were drinking bottled water, he looked at me in horror, mumbled an apology, and fled, never to be seen again. Luckily, the Erbaluce we had ordered was good and cold, and we sipped it gratefully while we waited for our entrees. The squab I had ordered arrived as promised atop a bed of bitter greens and black figs. As I pushed aside the other accompaniments—a slab of tasteless grilled polenta and a couple of shriveled slices of anemic-looking bacon, I was happy to see that the kitchen had been generous with the figs. A forkful of greens was enough; they were the consistency of tissue paper and so I pushed the rest of them to the side of my plate. Feeling pretty ravenous at this point, I began to attack the squab, which was encased in pale, fatty skin. After a little ripping and wrestling, I was able to dislodge a couple of tender, gamey morsels, but that was it. “Why aren’t you eating the legs?” my husband asked. Dutifully, I picked one up and took a bite. But the flesh clung stubbornly to the bone. “It’s raw,” I said as I put the leg down. My husband, who had ordered the whole fish of the day, which was Branzino, fared a bit better. After filleting the fish himself and dousing it with liberal amounts of fresh lemon and salt, he asked for some olive oil to finish it. At first, a harried waiter (not ours) presented him with an empty bottle but eventually someone brought him one with some oil still in it and he was able to drizzle it over his fish. He was less successful in doctoring the pile of unseasoned escarole that accompanied the fish. Moving into the home stretch, we sat looking at the mess we had created—crumbs, bits of food, grease. Our table was looking so ugly that another waiter who happened to be walking by took notice and let us in on a consoling bit of information: “Your waiter’s an actor,” he said apologetically, “and his last name is King, sort of thinks he is one, you know. But don’t worry I’ll take care of you,” he assured us. We smiled, feeling like we might not be invisible or untouchable after all. Eventually, the King made an appearance and offered to take our dessert order. We decided on an oven-roasted peach and some gelato. Ten minutes later the gelato showed up sans peach. Hungrily, we devoured it. When we were almost finished, we were able to flag down another waiter—the ranks seemed to be thinning as the night wore on—and told him that we’d ordered a peach and inquired if it typically took a long time. “It usually does but let me double-check for you,” he said. A few minutes, the King grimly approached the table. “It seems your order did not print out in the kitchen but they’re working on it right now and it’ll be here on the fly.” We nodded as if we understood. We waited a bit longer and eventually the peach made its appearance. It wasn’t half-bad but the hour was getting late and we were ready for the bill. When the first version arrived, guess what? No peach. Well, that’s nice, we thought. My husband put down his credit card, but when it was returned to him with an itemized receipt and a slip for him to sign, the peach had been added on, bringing us to a grand total of $147 for a $35 bottle of wine and two mediocre dinners. For the first time since my own stint as a waitress, we did not leave a very generous tip.

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