I Can Eat 50 Eggs: Gusto Italian Kitchen

In honor of Paul Newman and “Cool Hand Luke,” I’ll review 50 days of eggs from 50 different restaurants.
Day 46: Gusto Italian Kitchen
4800 Burnet Road. 458-1100, www.gustoitaliankitchen.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday. 4 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.15.12
The decor at the new Gusto Italian Kitchen is a muraled and stenciled mashup of Italian archetypes, from Grant and Hepburn on a scooter in “Roman Holiday” to Sophia Loren eating pizza to Mr. Sinatra from the cover of “Come Dance With Me” to Marcello Mastroianni looking cooler than all of them put together. The effect is brighter and less self-serious than the space’s previous incarnation as a Peruvian restaurant called La Sombra, made even better by the removal of a curved screen that divided, or rather obstructed, the lounge area from the dining room. Now it’s all one big room, family-style. Sobering how quickly all traces of a past civilization can vanish, only to have another start right on top of it.
The interactivity of spaghetti carbonara is what draws me to that dish, so I started lunch at Gusto with a request: Can the chef crack the egg over the top and leave it for me to mix in with the pasta, bacon, pecorino and peas? Yes. The result is spaghetti that goes from hayfield tan to Tuscan blond in front of your eyes once the yolk does its thing. The sinuous twirls of thick spaghetti have a case-hardened feel, and they carry only the oil and egg and traces of the cheese. The rest is up to you and your fork skills. Stab the peas and bacon, then twirl away. It’s hard to reconcile these thick cuts of pork with precise fat-and-lean striations as bacon. They have the texture of fragrant ham, and somehow even the translucent fatty pieces carry the smoky, whole-hog aura with them. The $9.75 dish fulfills carbonara’s mission to pack lush density by the bowlful, but it runs the risk of being overwhelmed by salt.
The willingness to let me play with my food (and by extension, their food) is a good sign for Gusto, which took over for La Sombra in January. It’s run by the same people who made a go with that restaurant’s South American menu. They’ve just switched hemispheres.
The small things were what I liked best about La Sombra. The empanadas, the Cubano sandwich, the yuca-and-plantain soup, the rice pudding. Gusto makes a joyful noise with an antipasti dish of eggplant caponata ($4). It’s more like a marmalade or a sweet relish, punctuated by fleshy eggplant, the pop of capers and the nutty twang of pine-nut buds, rounded out by celery, caramelized onion and grapes. With toasted ciabatta, it’s a good balancing agent for the carbonara’s unrelenting richness.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
I Can Eat 50 Eggs index