Gusto Mexican Cantina
522 Main St (Empire Hotel),
Open: Tues-Sun 5pm until late
Mains range from $12 to $32
Reviewed by Lisa Durrant.
Palmerston North has a veritable United Nations of restaurants, however, until a few months ago, it was missing a Mexican-themed eatery.
The opening of El Gusto Mexican Cantina in the former Cobb 'n' Co premises has seen this omission rectified.
While there are some remnants of the Cobb 'n' Co decor, the cantina has been given a Mexican makeover. Candles on the tables add to the pleasant ambience.
The colourful menu was designed by El Gusto's chef, South American Jose Antonio Gacitua, which has ensured an authentic flavour.
On the Sunday night we visited, the place was quiet. We were pleasantly surprised by the delivery of a complimentary sangria and a small plate of tortilla chips and El Gusto sauce for dipping.
We kicked our meal off with a couple of entrees. My friend had the chef's cerviche. One of the chef's signature dishes, this is fresh fish "cooked" in a marinade of lemon, capsicum, garlic, onion, chillies, olive oil, and fresh coriander. It was a light and refreshing start to the meal.
I also went for seafood – cocktail de gambas. This is shrimp in a mild homemade chipotle chilli mayo, corn kernels, sour cream, with a dollop of guacamole and served in a hand-crafted tortilla basket. The mayo was so mild I wasn't sure it had any chipotle chilli in it at all, but the guacamole saved the dish, with its spiciness going well with the shrimp.
The tortilla basket was a novel yet edible way to present the dish.
For my main I opted for chimichangas, a sizeable meal that involved a tortilla stuffed with the meat of your choice – I had grilled chicken – wrapped in a parcel, then deep fried, topped with El Gusto salsa, melted cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. It's served with Mexican rice, black beans and feta, and also a little side salad. This dish had a good dose of spiciness, and I enjoyed the different textures. What I didn't enjoy was the dry and crunchy bits of rice, which was actually pretty bland. The chicken was also on the dry side.
My friend was in the mood for a steak, so went for T-bone ranchero – a huge 400g T-bone steak, served with ranchero sauce, baked honey cumin camote (sweet potato) and a side salad. This meal arrived on three separate plates, with the large steak presented by itself on a large, flat bowl-type plate. It was cooked exactly as ordered.
My daughter ordered from the kids' menu, which offered a limited choice of four meals priced at either $12 or $14. She chose pastel de mais y carnita – nice to see even this menu has titles in Spanish. It was described as a Mexican shepherd's pie, prime beef with sweet corn. This dish was a bit of a letdown, the beef lacking seasoning or any Mexican flavour at all.
As it was Sunday night, meals from the kids' menu were complimentary, which was another unexpected bonus.
We decided to share a couple of desserts among the three of us. Unfortunately out of five desserts on the menu, two weren't available. So we opted for the cocada, balls of rich walnut and coconut bound with Jose's caramel. While the menu said there were two balls, three actually arrived – a thoughtful addition since there were three of us. Unfortunately, we found the balls boring, not being able to taste anything apart from coconut.
We also had pastel de chocolate azteca – rich chocolate cake served with chantilly cream and a little bowl of chocolate chilli sauce. This delightful sauce really made the dish, the hint of chilli the perfect partner for the chocolate and provided us with a high note to finish our meal on.
- © Fairfax NZ News