The word Gustazo means great pleasure and “darse or dar un Gustazo” means to treat oneself or someone else to something special.
I’m a huge fan of Cuban food but haven’t eaten it in years. After all, we don’t see this type of cuisine very often in New England. So I was intrigued recently when I heard about Gustazo Cuban Restaurant in Waltham. After some research, I discovered people both online and off who raved about it and decided to find out for myself. I eagerly booked a table at Gustazo and counted the days.
On a Saturday night, we carpooled with another couple from Newton and found our destination in about 10 – 15 minutes. Gustazo is located just around the corner from well-known Moody Street, on Main Street. Parking was ample and we quickly found a spot and arrived thirty minutes early (we were hungry!). It turned out they don’t have a bar or space to hang out while we waited. Luckily, they found a table for us and we were seated right away.
The narrow space has an intimate feel with walls that are wrapped in colorful wallpaper featuring Cuban modern art, along with touches of Latin decor. Cuban music plays, lending a festive feel to the atmosphere.
The hostess brought us to a cozy table for four and we wasted no time in ordering drinks. Although I had my heart set on a mojito (from Havana), Gustazo doesn’t have a liquor license, only wine and beer. I went with the flow and ordered the Sangria, which was on the sweet side, but I enjoyed the fresh, fruity taste.
We quickly got down to the business at hand. Food.
I wanted everything on the menu which consists of authentic Cuban cuisine with a modern twist. The four of us opted to share everything and chose small plates from both the hot and cold list, as well as two entrees. Dishes are served as they are ready so we had a steady stream of plates arriving throughout the evening.
The first dishes to arrive were Mejillones con Chorizo (PEI mussels in a creamy chorizo sauce with scallions and served with rustic bread) and Chuletas de Cordero (grilled lamb chops, Romesco and a side of arugula). These two dishes had a beautiful presentation and they tasted even better! I’m not a fan of lamb, but the chop was tender and not at all gamey and the sauce was a great accompaniment. The muscles also were a big hit with the whole table.
The last appetizer was the special of the night, Tuna Cerviche.
It was almost too pretty to eat.
Next to arrive was Chicharrones (crispy pork belly, avocado puree, pineapple-orange salsa, cilantro). I’m sometimes put off by the “belly” part of this, assuming it would be and taste too fatty. Instead, these bite-sized pieces were crisp and perfectly spiced. After that, our waiter arrived with Pulpo a la Gallega ((Olive oil poached Spanish octopus, malanga puree, roasted tomatoes) which was well-liked by those of us at the table that enjoy octopus (I tried it but it’s not my thing!). The final appetizer was Tortilla Española (thick Spanish frittata with potatoes, caramelized onions, Remoulade). This was our least favorite. We found it a bit heavy and the sauce made it more so.
Our group decided to share two entrees: Puerco Asado (slow roasted pork, caramelized onions, rice, black beans, maduros) and Ropa Vieja (shredded flank steak in a delicate tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, rice, black beans, maduros). Both dishes were outstanding and savored by each of us. I’m not sure I’ve ever had steak so tender, as it was literally falling apart on the plate. Both were flavorful without being heavy-handed and the side dishes were perfect accompaniments.
This is a picture of the pork entree. Unfortunately, we devoured the steak dish so quickly I didn’t have a chance to photograph it. Just trust me that it was fabulous. The pork went almost as quickly (I had to slap hands away to take the shot). I very much enjoyed the traditional Cuban dish that had my favorite side, plaintains.
Overall, my only complaints are that they don’t have a liquor license and that many dishes include a “remoulade” or sauce we found to be similar to mayonnaise. The food is perfectly cooked and flavored and does not need this addition. Our group wondered if perhaps it is a traditional sauce in Cuba. We’ll have to make a trip to find out.
When the dishes were cleared, our waiter offered us dessert. However, we had already eaten our share plus some, so we declined. Next time!
I can happily report that Gustazo is now my go-to for Cuban cuisine. The short drive to Waltham is well worth it and the four of us enjoyed the dining experience from beginning to end. Thank you, Gustazo!