April 5, 2020

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ABOVE THE FOLD

Simple sophistication

Modern Italian resto offers up ambitious dishes, rustic homemade flavours

Opinion

The only self-enclosed restaurant with sit-down service within the recently opened Hargrave St. Market, Gusto North is an outpost of the popular Pizzeria Gusto in River Heights.

Restaurant review

Gusto North

242 Hargrave St., second floor

Hargravestmarket.com

Go for: Modern Italian in a sophisticated setting

Best bet: A simple, perfect plate of homemade ricotta and bread

Gusto North

242 Hargrave St., second floor

Hargravestmarket.com

Go for: Modern Italian in a sophisticated setting

Best bet: A simple, perfect plate of homemade ricotta and bread

Appetizers: $14-$26; mains: $26-$36

Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.–midnight; Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Licensed: yes

Reservations: yes

Noise level: high during busy periods

Wheelchair accessible: yes

★★★★ out of five

As befits the anchor of this very sleek new food hall, this is a handsome space with a buzzy, big-city ambience, especially at night, when the lights are low and the noise level is high. Come summertime, there’s a patio with cool downtown views.

The modern Italian menu, sharing some of the same inspirations as the Academy Road location, is ambitious, but there are a few highs and lows in execution.

Ricotta Della Piazza San Mariano features tomato jam, chili oil, pumpkin seeds, basil and grilled sour dough.

Ricotta Della Piazza San Mariano features tomato jam, chili oil, pumpkin seeds, basil and grilled sour dough.

Gusto North wants to bring diners the best of the Italian family table, so it’s not surprising that some of the best dishes are the simplest.

A generous appetizer (probably enough for three or four people to share) that combines a mound of homemade ricotta with pumpkin seeds, a thick tomato jam, a little chili oil for heat, and some good charred country bread — you can smell the smoke — is modest perfection.

The antipasto plate is also strong, and not just for the good cured meat and cheese, such as delicately thin ruffles of prosciutto, some truffled salami and wedges of buttery, full-bodied provolone on one night.

The intriguing accompaniments, including a verdant nut gremolata, more of that tomato jam, some pickled carrot with lots of snap, and a little shaved fennel, make for interesting taste combinations.

Scallops Pancetta with white balsamic, amaretto and winter greens.

Scallops Pancetta with white balsamic, amaretto and winter greens.

Scallops with crisped pancetta and a garnish of greens are also nice, as are delicate little mushroom arancini, which get a creamy tang from the taleggio cheese.

The very good verde salad starts with a mix of greens and gets texture from zucchini, carrots and fruity green olives, all wrapped up in a bright roasted lemon dressing. There was almost too much going on with the beet salad, though, which offers some terrific single ingredients — parsnip, pickled fennel, orange, frisee — but doesn’t convincingly bring them together.

Lunchtime options include a sandwich that begins with a boar cutlet, pounded thin. The meat is tender and the crumb coating light and crisp, but the big cutlet is placed on a haplessly small focaccia bun. This was not so much a taste problem as a logistical issue, and we ended up just taking the meat out of the bun and eating it separately.

Executive Chef Jesse Friesen prepares a pizza in Gusto North's wood-burning oven.

Executive Chef Jesse Friesen prepares a pizza in Gusto North's wood-burning oven.

Sampled pizza didn’t quite match the high quality of the Academy Road venue. The toppings were good — the De Niro combines fontina and prosciutto with some sneak-up-on-you heat from serrano honey — but the crust isn’t as good as it needs to be, getting a little limp towards the middle.

Dinner entrees include lamb loin, served rare and meltingly tender but a little cold, though the accompanying polenta, rich with Gorgonzola, was so good I could have just eaten a bowl of that. A piccata of rich lobster meat, nicely balanced by some humble potatoes and a finish of buttery, lemony capers and greens, is also very good.

Dessert include struffoli, and to call them Italian doughnuts would be to undersell them. These fabulous pieces of fried dough are just a little chewy but also tender and crisped and drizzled with a perfectly balanced glaze of honey and citrus.

The De Niro combines fontina and prosciutto with some heat from serrano honey.

The De Niro combines fontina and prosciutto with some heat from serrano honey.

Budino, here served up as a tart with a butterscotchy layer covered by chocolate, was too stiff and — I really don’t say this very often — too sweet.

The all-Italian wine menu is extensive, and there’s a range of craft cocktails with Italian inflections.

Service is personable and mostly efficient — there were some lulls during the busy supper hour — and there are a lot of nice touches in the tableware, like charming, colourful Marimekko plates for those excellent appetizers.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

Mike Deal

Mike Deal
Photojournalist

Mike Deal started freelancing for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1997. Three years later, he landed a part-time job as a night photo desk editor.

Read full biography

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