Me gusta la ensalada

Me+gusta+la+ensalada

Reilly Blum

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MUCHO GUSTO: The salad with chicken and the spiced tomato tzatziki was full of contrasts. The warm chicken and heavily spiced tomato tzatziki, when juxtaposed with the cool cucumber and chickpea salad, kept my taste buds interested.

“What’s your gusto?”

This simple question, decaled on the wall, came across like a challenge, not a decoration. What was my gusto? I had no idea, but I wanted to find out.

The second stop on my culinary journey was Gusto! Wood Fire Grill, located at 1935 Peachtree St. The restaurant’s name led me to expect Mexican food, but upon entering I realized that the name described gusto as in vigor, not mucho.

Around the World on 80 Plates Series, Installment #4 Morocco
Around the World on 80 Plates Series, Installment #4 Morocco

Much like Chipotle, Gusto! offers healthy alternatives to fast food: patrons choose bread, flatbread, a rice bowl or a salad from a menu mounted on the wall and then select a protein (chicken, portobello mushrooms or shrimp). Then comes the fun part: selecting a gusto.

A gusto is, as the menu describes, “a robust flavor profile created from the world’s ingredients.” Each gusto consists of a sauce, fruits and vegetables, and a garnish.

The gustos shamelessly fuse cuisines of the world: choices include tahini cucumber feta, chili citrus BBQ, buffalo buttermilk blue, chipotle mango avocado, apple curry peanut, sweet soy sriracha and spiced tomato tzatziki.

I felt as though I was pulled in several different directions–Gusto! seems to suffer from culinary whiplash.

Eventually, I ordered a flatbread wrap with chicken and the tahini cucumber feta gusto, which consists of hummus, tomato and chickpea salad, and feta with dill. As I walked to the register to pay, I peeked over the tall stainless-steel partition and witnessed my lunch’s creation.

The price was moderate; I spent about $10 on my meal, but the wrap was quite large, and the ingredients were fresh. My meal was worth the relatively high price.

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IT’S A WRAP: My chicken wrap was nearly flawless, and though it was delicious, I would have enjoyed a more unique culinary experience.

As I walked to a table, I noticed a curious brown paper bag on my tray. I opened it to find a scoop of homemade sweet potato chips–quite a cause for excitement. Gusto! had just earned itself some points.

I then took a bite of my wrap. The flatbread was warm and closer to naan than any other type of bread. The chicken was tender, the flavors were strong–everything was perfectly tasty, just as a wrap should be.

And that is my one critique: perhaps it was my choice of gusto, but my wrap was fairly predictable. The hummus, feta, tzatziki and chicken were tasty but not exciting. My gusto did not fill me with gusto; it just filled my stomach.

It was then that I sampled a bit of a salad made with the spiced tomato tzatziki. This gusto consists of moroccan-spiced tomato sauce, cucumbers and chickpeas in a lemon and mint yogurt dressing, and what the menu describes as “curious carrots.”

The tomato tzatziki had the depth of flavor I was looking for. The tomato sauce conjured images of Marrakesh, not Rome. It was richly spiced with flavors I couldn’t quite put my finger on, yet remained somewhat “Americanized,” not too exotic. The cucumbers and chickpeas offered a fresh contrast to the warm tomato sauce, and the lemon dressing provided a nice zing. I couldn’t find anything particularly curious about the carrots, but that might have just been a fault of my own.

This was the gusto for me. It balanced Moroccan cuisine with American palates perfectly, offering tasty, though regrettably not entirely authentic, flavors.

The rest of the salad was just as scrumptious–the chicken was perfectly tender, the romaine leaves perfectly green.

I would have preferred a little less chicken and a little more lettuce, but the flavors were so delectable that I didn’t really mind the imbalance.

Gusto’s food is quite tasty for a restaurant with what I dub “multiple cuisine disorder.”

The ingredients are fresh and flavorful and the wildly different gustos work well with the basic menu options.

The restaurant itself posed the question, and now so do I:

What’s your gusto?

This is the second installment in the series, Around the World on 80 Plates.