Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Nothing I could write here will be of surprise to anybody who knows anything about New York's dining scene.  Esca has remained a solid, reliable, iconic destination for a decade and a half.    Its pedigreed owners, the Batali-Batianich clan, must be as proud of Esca as any of its restaurants, as Chef Dave Pasternack continues the impeccable quality and responsible stewardship of the ocean's bounty like no other.  As The New York Times so eloquently stated,

Service is effortlessly suave, the room just the same.  A subdued elegance pervades- even the silverware is comfortable in hand.  Keeping it in the family, I chose a full-bodied Bastianich friuliano from the expansive tome of a wine list, which held up well with all the dishes we tried.  The menu options change substantially on a daily basis, due to seasonality, sustainability and fishmermen's luck, but it is vast enough that even picky eaters will easily find treasures.  

In fact, we were welcomed with a little amuse-bouche crostino, topped with creamy slurry of garlicky white beans- a hearty, flavorful mouthful, with nary a morsel from the sea at all.   That said, the focus is fish, and their menu opens with a expertly curated array of oysters and crudo, from which we chose a precious white salmon, naked but for a drizzle of heady olive oil and a solitary pink peppercorns.  A masterpiece of simplicity.  For my own part, however, I was lured back to land by the Verdure Miste, not your typical array of grilled veg, but a lusty compilation of meltingly, devastatingly
 tender organic carrots and beets, sunchokes and artichokes, potatoes and turnip, each more delicious than the next.  They were robustly salty, slathered with an unctuous sheep's milk ricotta and a tangle of bitter greens atop.   Strangely, the "salad" was more decadent and substantial on the palate than the fish, but each sang their own unique songs of  luxury.  

Entrees continued on the same successful path.   Our empties were dextrously whisked away and warm plates of more glorious delicacies from the sea arrived.  I don't mean that dismissively: there is a simultaneous simplicity and depth to the cooking at Esca.  A pristine filet  of flaky, snowy cod, its skin-side sauteed to a thin crisp of gold, like how a tiny silver of burgeoning crescent illumination coddles the soft, glowy whole of the moon.   It came with a pile of tender braised sunchokes, which lose some of their nuttiness in such thorough cooking, but take on a distinct sweetness and uncommon softness.  It was balanced by an engaging agro-dolce, which also enhanced the gentle sweetness of the cod.  Two primary components turned into a combination much greater than the sum of their 
parts.  Sgombro (Spanish mackerel) achieved a meaty firmness seared on the grill, its signature fishiness countered with a savory mix of earthy wild mushrooms and leeks.  Our only misstep may have been following our server's recommendation of a side dish of roasted broccoli instead of a less common option of braised artichokes... the broccoli was (again) over-cooked to edge of mushiness: perfectly fine, in and of itself, but somewhat repetitive after its two vegetable predecessors, and also, broccoli
 is significantly more common than artichokes on local menus... as well as in my own kitchen, so it seemed less special than the 'chokes.

In the end, we skipped dessert: although the options were all estimable, I'm sure.  Exemplary  renditions of traditional Italian desserts, although I actually don't mind going a little chi-chi on the sweet end of things, which is not at all what Esca is about.  Thus, a classic tiramisu, sheep's milk cheesecake, a chocolate-hazelnut torte- I'm sure all were exquisite sweets.  They did, in fact, look quite tempting as they made their way to other tables.   Actually, I felt a little loss after we decided against them, but then, fully sated by ever other aspect of our meal, that feeling evaporated quickly.  To that end, it's hard to leave Esca without feeling anything but completely and utterly satisfied.

402 W 43RD STREET, 
Tel: 212 564 7272

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