More than just a clever name for an Italian restaurant, Giusto has several translations: “We like ‘just right’,” says chef and owner Kevin O’Donnell. For Newport, “just right” conjures scenes of dinner on the water with warm salty breezes, glowing sunsets, and distant chimes of ships’ bells – unless it’s raining and you’re sitting inside.
“[In good weather] both walls open entirely, even opposite the bar,” says general manager Aaron Edwards, “so the whole restaurant feels like it’s outside.” A thoughtful design by Libby Slader uses clean lines, mixed neutrals, and soft lighting to create warmth even on a drizzly afternoon.
I start with the Bicicleta Rosa Spritz for its unique blend of a trendy Sicilian Rosé, Italicus Bergamot Liqueur, and Carpano botanic bitters. It is sharp and refreshing with just a hint of citrus. My guest chooses the fizzy Ferragosto, a sweet and spicy combination of vodka, watermelon, ginger, and Prosecco. There is a story behind the Joanne’s Sangria on the menu, a loving jab at O’Donnell’s mother-in-law who pours Fresca into her wine and calls it sangria. Giusto’s upgraded version has added ripe stone fruits and berries, but they’ve kept the Fresca.
For appetizers, or “snacks” as they’re called at Giusto, O’Donnell says The Scotch Meatball is a must-have. A perfectly soft-boiled egg is at the center of a well-seasoned and crisply coated fresh sausage meatball. Thankfully, there are no breakfast or fennel vibes here, favoring garnishes of micro celery and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, with a jammy tomato sauce that contains salumi and pepperoni.
Second to arrive is Fett’unta, a Tuscan version of bruschetta which translates to “oily slice.” Sweet, ripe grape tomatoes, torn basil, and a fruity olive oil are perfectly salted and shine, literally, atop a grilled slice of ciabatta.
We decided to share a pasta course and chose the Casarecci, which I knew from my first glimpse of the menu that I would need to try this unique pairing of spicy n’duja sausage and classic basil pesto. Giusto has embraced the Italian manner of dressing pasta using sauce as a light condimenti or seasoning, and not drowning a great noodle – for this I am grateful.
For entrees, my guest, though not typically a seafood eater, opted for the Steamed Little Necks with a broth that includes guanciale, a peppery cured pork cheek infinitely better than bacon. The generous garlic dough boy topper served as the ultimate pillowy dipper for the chowder-style mascarpone white sauce.
Finally, my Striped Bass in Crazy Water is a light finish that packs a flavorful punch. O’Donnell’s take on Crazy Water, or Acqua Pazza, is a clam broth tinged lightly red with the addition of clear, concentrated tomato essence. A generous filet of striped bass is seared crisp top side and delicately poached beneath. Three littlenecks, adorned with the most delicate, minerally green agretti and rings of fiery pickled Red Fresno chilis, echo the delicious ocean-forward broth inspired by Vietnamese Nuoc Cham.
Though there is an extensive and tempting dessert menu, we are both too satiated to partake – but I will be back for that dessert on a dry night at sunset when all the windows are open to the salty air while sipping my Fresca-topped Sangria. In my head, O’Donnell’s philosophy for Giusto echoes: “We love what we do but try not to take ourselves too seriously. We want people to just have a good time when they come in and hopefully they will see our passion.”