Lancaster - Gusto
Well, since I had heard good things about Gusto, my husband and I were really looking forward to our first visit there with friends. Unfortunately, it just didn't meet our expectations. Here is my very long review.
Upon arrival, my husband and I were a few minutes early, so we waited at the bar and each ordered a Mojito. Now, I am not a big drinker and rarely complain, especially about a lack of alcohol, but his tasted like Sprite with mint, almost no rum could be detected.
The dining room was a little bit noisier than I expected, but I hoped that that was a good thing - lots of happy, relaxed diners. We were a party of 4. we ordered 3 apps to share, all got salads, we ordered one bottle of wine.
For apps we ordered and shared: the plate of cured meats, tuna carpaccio, and the popcorn crab. The tuna was the clear winner. The drizzle of chili oil was was excellent on the very fresh and thinly sliced tuna. Unfortunately, we were all a little disappointed in the presentation. The huge plate barely fit on the table, and the shoestring fried potatoes and greens seemed incongruous to the rest of the dish. Unfortunately, the cured meats were presented exactly the same way, and while the meats were fine, there was nothing special going on. The presentation of the popcorn crab was much better, served in a martini glass with a shot glass of remoulade on the side, and another shot glass of picks made it perfect for sharing. The flavor was decent, but the batter was a bit heavy. Overall, this dish was fun, but rich - certainly not for eating alone.
We all got the arugula salad. This was a disaster on a place. The arugula was completely covered with the aforementioned shoestring potatoes, which were very heavily salted. While the description did say it has the potatoes, I believe all of us thought they would be a sprinkled accent. Instead, they were half the plate. It was so salty it rendered the dish almost inedible. While 3 of us dug under the potato to eat the arugula, one member of our party gave up completely and left the salad almost entirely untouched.
For entrees, I ordered the duck with broccoli rabe as did another member of our party. One person ordered the lamb and eggplant on spinach noodles, and the fourth got the veal scaloppini. The person that got the pasta entree was the only truly satisfied customer. She felt that all of the flavors melded beautifully - she had had a similar dish at an event catered by Mazzi, so she had an idea of what she was getting. The veal was recommended by a friend, but my husband was really disappointed. There was basically nothing to this dish. The fried veal cutlet was placed on top of a decent cream sauce but that was it - that was all that went into this dish. The salad was included with the veal, but there was absolutely nothing else on the plate. The duck was perfectly cooked, but again salt was a problem. It was served with a roasted new potato, and the sauteed broccoli rabe. The potatoes were over salted through and through - the one taste I had was enough and the rest were left on the plate. However, it quickly became clear that before leaving the kitchen, someone had sprinkled a large pinch of salt all over the plate in a less than even fashion. One bite would be fine (of either the duck or the broccoli) and the next would taste like a mouth full of salt.
We ordered dessert (I needed something sweet after all that salt) and my husband and I shared a nice creme brulee. The others ordered a blackberry cheesecake, which was described as having no blackberry flavor, just a very standard cheesecake (my husband tasted it, and immediately declared Pellman's), and the last diner had a chocolate cake - he didn't say anything about it at all.
The two gentleman tried to order an aperitif, but the selection was poor. They ended up with limoncello that they both complained lacked any mouth feel - it was described as tasting like a kamikaze shot enjoyed in college. The Barolo wine that we had with our meal was just fine, easy to drink and reasonably priced. The entire experience cost $260.
We try to get together with this other couple twice a year to try something new and special. We both have young kids and don't get to eat out nearly as often as we would like, or used to. So, we admit that our expectations tend to be a little high. But this went beyond mildly disappointing. My friend stated that it was not a place she felt any need to return to. Ten years ago when my husband and I first married and didn't yet have children, we ate out often and it seemed that Lancaster was about to go through a real renaissance of restaurants. Aside from John J. Jeffries, we have been mostly disappointed of late. For next time, we picked the Shepherd Mansion in Hanover.
Well, if you do intend to go to the Sheppard Mansion, please realize that the chef does many things right: The bread is homemade, with the true star being the pretzel rolls -- I get hungry just thinking about them. Also, the entrees have been absolutely delicious -- salmon one time, veal another and both were perfection.
Be warned, though: The appetizers are hit or miss. I've been twice and was disappointed each time. So please be careful when ordering from this part of the menu. Unfortunately, since the menu changes often, I can't suggest what to order and what to stay away from. Maybe your server can give you some tips.
This place has gotten a lot of recognition, and deservedly so. But if the owners are striving for high-end dining, akin to the Inn at Little Washington and the French Laundry, which this restaurant has been compared to, then everything better be darn near flawless. It's not quite there yet -- almost, but not quite. Chef, if you're on Chow, please work on those appetizers.