Gusto is a wonderfully relaxed establishment that combines an emphasis on great ingredients from the area with local charm, style and panache. Located just off the maddening Candolim main road and tucked into a quiet lane, the restaurant is refreshing in every sense of the word! It doesn’t seek attention with flashy lights and live music. They focus on what they do, and trust that those with a good taste in food and looking for a quiet evening and will find their way there.
Jennifer and Bilal, the husband-wife duo running the restaurant are a charming pair, and give you the insider feel that you don’t get at more formal restaurants. I, for one, and I think most of us, love that homely touch when we dine out. The foodie-enthusiasm that they show wouldn’t be exuded quite as joyfully as in a larger enterprise.
On turning into a lane off the main road, Gusto is located a few hundred meters down, right next to the Literatti Book Shop. It was once called Tamarin, but a change of name and location has brought it where it is today.
Once you’ve arrived at this outdoor restaurant, take a seat under bright orange canopies. It makes a pleasant, breezy space for an afternoon lunch, and as the sun begins to set, you’ll notice that each canopy has a light bulb shielded with a basket for a rustic appeal. Bug spray on each table is effective enough to let you enjoy your meal, pest-free. A little distance away, the magic happens in an indoor kitchen tucked out of sight behind a wall of bamboo.
While the staff is attentive and capable enough to answer questions, Jennifer is the force behind running the floor seamlessly. I couldn’t help but notice her cheery hellos and goodbyes to diners. She suggested a great mix of dishes that allowed me to sample a bit of the Kashmiri and Mediterranean menus, ensuring each course wouldn’t fill me up before the next.
Bilal, from Kashmir, manages the kitchen behind-the-scenes. In the brief conversation I had with him, I was amazed to learn about how he scoured the state to find the international-level produce – mozzarella, mutton and what have you, from suppliers in Goa, that I, being a local, haven’t ever heard of! He said he hadn’t studied cooking formally, yet his love for food was apparent in his words and shone through in the food he prepared.
At first, the half-Kashmiri, half-Mediterranean menu can be a bit strange. But hey, if you do both equally well, it would be a shame to hide it.
Gazpacho + Beetroot and Mint Soup
I preferred the gazpacho to the beetroot and mint soup. Both were served chilled in little shot glasses but the gazpacho was delicious and not like watered-down salsa you get in many places. Made with chilled tomatoes, spring onions, olive oil and garlic, it’s great to get the appetite going before ordering mains.
Lebanese Beef Kibbeh
Kibbeh is the epitome of Middle Eastern comfort food. These were rounder, firmer and slightly drier than croquettes. The exterior was deliciously crispy, and surprisingly, there was not a drop of oil on it at all! So easy to fill up on these since they can be quite heavy!
I could not get enough of these, they were SO GOOD! Gorgeous juicy mushrooms stuffed with parmesan, homemade pesto and pine nuts, roasted or sautéed and skewered on a stick. These were absolutely melt-in-your-mouth and the presentation turned the delicious outdoor appetizer into a classier version. Must Try!
Israeli Sauteed Chicken
This chicken was divine, and is understandably Gusto’s bestseller. Every bite of the well-cooked, succulent chicken absorbed sweet and savoury orange sauce that really hits all the senses and taste buds. Just enough jus in the bowl lended flavour to the Mujadarra rice with black lentils. The dish was complete with cucumber cut into paper thin slices, pomegranate for a pop of flavour and mint for freshness. This dish was sheer poetry!
Faultless! Before even tasting biryani, I look for the caramelized onions on top! Was instantly pleased with this one and it just kept getting better from there. Fragrant rice, scrumptious chunks of meltingly-tender mutton, ghee, saffron and the taste of fresh herbs and spices cooked together. Another winning dish from Gusto and we polished off every last grain of it.
The aromatic lamb dish of Persian origin, is one of the signature recipes of Kashmiri cuisine. This was yet another sensory striking dish – it’s thick gravy marked with its vibrant red hue, brimming with flavour. Again, the lamb chunks were ultra soft and came apart at the slightest insistence. Mutton lovers will recognize the premium cuts of lamb used by the lack of sinew and presence of a delicious layer of fatty goodness. First timers, don’t be alarmed by all the red you see, it’s not fiery hot at all!
I’m a huge fan of brinjal/aubergine, especially when paired with a tomato based gravy. This dish with a funny name had fried baby aubergines cooked with tamarind and spice-spiked tomato sauce. Zingy gravy and deliciously mushy brinjal! This is one of those wonderful dishes created with minimalistic ingredients but packing a ton of flavour.
I overdosed on Phirni this year and swore to stay off it because it was getting boring and monotonous. But when Bilal said he gave it his own spin, I decided to give it a shot, seeing as how he hit the ball out of the park with every other dish. While it was much better in terms of looks and texture, what put me off was the cardamom. I’m not a fan of evil little elaichi when its presence is overly felt.
Coconut Ice Cream
Move over, Naturals Ice Cream! This handmade ice cream has to be tried to be believed. Ultra creamy, smooth and satisfying and surpassing other coconut ice creams by miles!
Overall, the chef-owners have developed a harmonious menu that is thoughtful, aestically well presented and stripped of any pretentions. Both types of cuisine are filled with expertise and sophistication and its worth visiting, not just to eat, but to relish an extraordinary dining experience in the most casual atmosphere.
Meal for 2 – Rs. 1500- Rs. 1800
Address – Literati Bookshop, Gaura Vaddo, Calangute, Goa 403515, India