GREENWICH VILLAGE — Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano has served Italian food for six years, but executive chef Saul Montiel says its updated menu is as fresh as the ingredients he uses.
"We're using more of what's seasonal and local," Montiel said. "I'm keeping traditional Italian food but giving it a bit of a twist."
Montiel, a 29-year-old self-taught chef originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, said he loves personally selecting seafood for the restaurant at 60 Greenwich Ave. several times a week at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
"It's like going to Toys'R'Us when you're a kid, or Las Vegas when you're an adult," he said.
Gusto's current menu includes raviolo stuffed with buffalo ricotta and egg with pancetta bacon in a sage butter sauce, for $11, and tagliatelle pasta with pancetta bacon, white onion and tomato, for $19.
Montiel said he has worked in New York kitchens for 10 years and began cooking when he was 14 years old.
As a teenager, he helped his mother and grandmother in the kitchen of Hidalgo's only restaurant, which was named La Unica, Spanish for "the only one," he said.
"My whole life has been working the kitchen," Montiel said.
Rebecca Houlihan, one of Gusto's managers, said the restaurant's atmosphere will be new to people who haven't dined there in years, too.
Gusto has the feel of Italian movies from the 1950s and 1960s, like "La Dolce Vita," but "warmer and yummier," Houlihan said.
The restaurant was redesigned about two years ago when one of the owners decided that the staircase in its center "was bad feng shui" and needed to be moved to one side, she said.
Montiel is working on Gusto's fall menu now. So far, he says it will include braised chicken with Marsala sauce and the couscous-like Sardinian pasta called fregula, and short ribs cooked in the Italian beer Moretti.
Montiel said he has also been experimenting with Italian-Mexican fusion food, like meatballs with pine nuts, raisins and a chipotle tomato sauce.
"It has to be fun, always fun," he said.