Though it’s also a neighborhood place, Gusto is the rare local spot worth a visit just for the food. Adhering to the kind of up-front, simply layered, freshness-beats-all approach that makes Italian the most appealing summer fare, Gusto’s menu is stocked with items like panzanella (bread salad), grilled focaccia with fig and prosciutto, squash blossoms filled with mozzarella and ricotta, and seppioline (marinated cuttlefish with chiles and crushed olives) that won’t weigh you down in the middle of August. Even earthier items like tripe get a lift from a crackling Parmesan crust. Ravioli uncharacteristically wraps artichokes, ricotta, and thyme. A spirited pasta con le sarde practically fizzes with the refreshing trio of sardines, pine nuts, and raisins. Surprisingly, what may cause your enthusiasm for Gusto to wilt is its sparkling but unnavigable design, which keeps the staff from establishing any flow. It’s not their fault, but sometimes it makes you want to scream. Maybe they should carpet the ceiling.
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Address: 461 W. 23rd St., nr. Tenth Ave.; 212-366-0404
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 6 to 11:30 P.M.
Appetizers, $10 to $27; entrées, $18 to $33.
Ideal Meal: Crispy chicken-liver dumplings, pan-roasted Scottish salmon, Valrhona-chocolate pudding.
Note: It may seem like Siberia, but the elevated back room is the quietest, most pleasant place to eat.
Address: 60 Greenwich Ave., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-924-8000
Hours: Lunch, noon to 3 P.M. every day. Dinner, Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 11 P.M.; Saturday, 5:30 P.M. to midnight; Sunday, 5 to 10 P.M.
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $18; entrées, $14 to $36.
Ideal Meal: Squash blossoms filled with mozzarella and ricotta, pasta con le sarde, roasted peaches in amaretto.
Note: While the temperature is still hot, enjoy your meal with a sparkling Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.