Italian fine dining with a casual air comes to Hudson

Darren D’Altorio

More than pizza and spaghetti

There is not a restaurant shortage in the historic city of Hudson. From fine dining to Mickey D’s, the city has everything necessary to combat hunger.

But Soni Mihaj, general manager of Gusto D’ Italia, thinks his restaurant has something Hudson was missing.

“We were very surprised there was no decent Italian food here,” he said while sitting at a corner table of Gusto D’ Italia’s dimly lit dining room.

In the presence of this perceived void, Gusto D’ Italia was born.

Just past six weeks since opening for business, the dining room was more than half full on a snowy Tuesday night in mid-January. Soft light escaped from the sconces mounted along the dining room walls. Conversation was contained by burgundy drapes, hardwood floors and paintings of rustic countrysides. Couples, families and lone professionals with loose neckties ate and relaxed, seemingly enjoying the mood and the food.

My meal started how every Italian meal should: with bread. The server assistant brought an Italian roll with golden crust and a chewy center, along with an herb-infused butter, to the table. Since this restaurant and I are both Italian, I opted for extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which were both conveniently located at the table, to saturate the bread.

Executive Chef Chris Shydlowski provided a “chef’s table” experience for the remainder of the meal. This consisted of scaled-down portions of a variety of food to better sample the different flavors found on the menu.

Shydlowski’s background is in fusion fine dining, which borrows ingredients and techniques from multiple culinary origins and blends them to create cohesive dishes. He said working in one ethnic group is a challenge for him because he gets bored, but he tried to make Gusto’s menu as diverse as possible while staying true to traditional Italian cooking.

Appetizers were the Tuscan shrimp and the crab cake, which is one of Shydlowski’s signature items. Both are priced at $10. The crab cake was not fried, but pan-seared to get the outside crisp, then finished in the oven. It was served with a red pepper aioli. The shrimp were sautéed with white wine and garlic then paired with roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts. Both appetizers had mild flavors. The artichokes paired with the shrimp were a highlight.

Two salads followed — a Caprese and a Mediterranean salad. The Caprese was perfect: thin-sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella cheese and covered with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and basil. The flavors of the Caprese were refreshing, while the alternating red and white tower of tomatoes and cheese looked impressive. The Mediterranean was lackluster in comparison. The salty brine of the Kalamata olives and feta cheese overpowered the acetic tart of the lemon vinaigrette dressing.

Shydlowski prepared four scaled-down entrees: veal tenderloin saltimbocca, osso bucco, Gusto D’ Italia macaroni and cheese and frutti di mare.

The mac n’ cheese came first, consisting of fusilli noodles tossed with sautéed chicken and caramelized shallots. The pasta was covered in a Brie and fontina cheese sauce and topped with breadcrumbs. The dish looked like a blank canvas, white on top of white. The flavor was there. A salty, creamy sauce covering chunks of chicken is never a bad thing.

The veal saltimbocca left something to be desired. The veal was slightly overcooked, which could be attributed to the smaller portion size I was served. The roasted potatoes on the side lacked seasoning. The highlight was the sage and port reduction covering the meat. The sauce could be put on anything and juicy flavor would instantly be added.

Next was the frutti di mare, translated fruits of the sea, a traditional dish consisting of pasta tossed with a variety of seafood. This portion came with shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams served over linguini with an herb and tomato pomodoro sauce. It was executed perfectly. The pasta was al dente. The scallops melted in my mouth. The mussels and clams soaked up the flavors of the sauce.

Finally was the osso bucco. osso bucco comes from the calf portion of an animal. This was a veal cut. Just as osso bucco should, the meat easily separated from the bone with the touch of a fork. A delicious red wine demi covered the meat. Paired with it were the bland potatoes, apparently the vegetable of the day, and a saffron and red pepper risotto. The risotto was off. It was either overcooked or not stirred properly while cooking, making it lumpy on the tongue instead of smooth.

The colors of this dish were vibrant, balancing the deep colors of the meat with the starchy white of the risotto. An edible flower was placed atop the dish, giving it height and flair.

Overall, the experience was fine. Being a young restaurant, the execution of the dishes needs to be honed. I do think people will give it a fair chance to stand out as one of the better Italian restaurants in Northeast Ohio, a place that offers more than pizza and spaghetti.

Mihaj said providing quality service is the most important thing to him.

“We’re offering a comfortable, casual, elegant fine-dining experience at a moderate price point,” Mihaj said.

“We’re not a stuck-up fine dining place, our servers will know you by name and offer friendly, great service.”

“There is room for a lot of different tastes here,” Shydlowski said. “We’re not just a special occasion restaurant; there is diversity in the cuisine.”

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].