It’s been a while since the Bears joined forces to eat our way through LA.  Many things have changed since our days as “overworked and underpaid” drones.  Some of us are now “appropriately paid,” while others, sadly, are still “underpaid” (Luau Bear who I’m going to rename Digs-Thru-Poop Bear and Panda Bear).  But the “underpaid” ones got smart and married their sugar mammas (Farm Bear and Little Bear who will be renamed Fancy Nails Bear).  And some things never change.  Buff Bear is still buff as ever, so obviously his name isn’t changing.  One thing is true for all of us though, we are busier than ever, so coordinating all of our schedules to even get together for dinner isn’t always easy.  Heck, I don’t even live close to the majority of these guys, but I will trek anywhere for good friends and good food.  While Gusto wasn’t our first choice, we were pretty happy with Fancy Nails Bear’s choice in the end.  Gusto is a simple neighborhood Italian joint in the heart of Beverly Hills/WeHo.  It wasn’t crowded at all for a Friday night, which is probably not a good sign, but it was nice to not have to shout over the din of a bustling Friday night crowd.
The guys took a backseat while Farm Bear and I took the reigns with the menu.  I love Farm Bear because she just wanted to order everything on the menu and said yes to everything I suggested.  Her verve for food and dining makes she and I kindred spirits!
Asparagi grilled asparagus, sunny side egg, fontina fonduta
It was so simple, yet so delicious.  I wish I could get my grilled veggies to taste like this.   What is the secret?!  Charcoal grill?  There was a healthy balance of salt, tang, sharp, creamy, and luscious.  Lovely.
Lacinato shaved black kale

Kale might be the new beet or Brussels sprout today, making its appearance on practically every menu these days.  Some may find it too tough to eat raw, but when it is done right, my TMJ prone jaw is not exacerbated.  I found this to be bright and well balanced with varying textures and flavors.

Polpette meatballs al forno, tomato, ricotta, pecorino

Everyone knows I love a good mystery meat (sausage anything, meatball whatever, seafood cake something).  You name it, I will eat it.  Of course, it would be insulting to put old Mama’s meatballs in the same category as Spam.  However, meat without identifiable muscle fibers or anatomy gets lumped together in my book.  Lucky for us Gusto meatballs >>>>> Spam.  The ricotta and olive oil added a delicious richness to the hearty tomato sauce.

Polipo charred baby octopus, tomato, harissa, ceci beans

We were in need of more appetizers so we threw in the octopus.  These days I try to avoid these 8-legged seafood critters because I’ve accepted the truth in Smooth Obturator’s firm belief that octopus anywhere outside of Greece is always bad.  I have never personally been to Greece, but I’ll believe my brother when he says the octopus here is always too soft or too chewy because it’s never fresh.  The char was nice, but I think it made the tentacles a bit overdone and chewy.

Carne Cruda hand cut wagyu beef tartare, garlic, anchovy, black truffle, lemon, fettunta

Sooooo good!  Like a rich and luscious meat spread with all the right balanced flavors.  Next time, I’ll order just one for myself.

Orrechiette sweet sausage, tuscan kale, fennel pollen

Now onto the pastas which were all freshly made.  The orchiette was really solid, but nothing too surprising going on here.

Potato Gnocchi funghi misti, sugar snap peas, marsala, cipollini onions 

The gnocchi was probably one of my favorite dishes of the night.  The texture of the gnocchi was unctuous, so not too starchy, not really pillowy (which is a good texture to have too), and not too dense.  I liked that they were on the smaller side than other gnocchi I’ve had.  It just made for nice little delicate bites.  Two thumbs up for this vegetarian dish!

Black Spaghetti tomatoes, garlic, capers, black olives, anchovy, calabrian chili

The pictures kinda sucked because the lighting wasn’t so great.  Everyone seems to love a black pasta.  It seems like such a gimmick because I don’t think it adds much to the flavor or texture.  Either way, this was pretty good.  The pasta was al dente and chewy.  Really nice.

Tagliatelle ragù bolognese, parmigiano

Ragu anything always seems to be pretty solid anywhere you go, but then also a bit unremarkable.

Pork Chop

I’m lacking descriptors here, but the pork was nicely done.  Generally though, at Italian restaurants, the pastas usually outshine the second courses.  Why is that?

Manzo grilled prime skirt steak, peperonata pugliese, yukon potatoes, aceto balsamico tradizionale

I think we all found the skirt steak to be a little better than the pork chop.

Coconut Gelato Pie graham cracker crust, chocolate fonduta, toasted coconut

The waitress recommended this as a house favorite.  We all agreed it was pretty good, even though coconut isn’t my favorite.

Chocolate Budino hazelnuts, orange, panna

Smooth and chocolatey.  I didn’t like the orange essence.  I don’t think chocolate and orange go together.

Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta strawberry misti, lemon

Another good, yet unremarkable dish.  It’s hard to go wrong with berries.  I’m a berry fanatic.

Gusto was a really solid meal.  The pastas are comparable to many of the other places in LA (maybe a little better than Osteria Mamma, not as good as Angelini Osteria, and maybe about the same as Osteria La Buca).  But it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to these places so maybe things have changed?  I wouldn’t say this place is as good as Osteria Mozza though.  I would say the portion sizes could have been a tad larger.  All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to return if I was in the neighborhood.  Let’s hope it won’t take another couple years for the Bears to reunite again.  I certainly had a wonderful time catching up with all my old buddies!  Maybe next time Care Bear (the Bear name originator) and Token Bear can join us too?

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