Since I'm hemorrhaging money every time I go into the office to trade, I might as well spend some in an enjoyable manner. So this past Friday, I decided to try out Esca. Esca is not a very big restaurant, and the named chef, David Pasternak, is in the kitchen most nights. From most online accounts, he seems obsessed with freshness, and many chefs speak very highly of him. The restaurant specializes in seafood, especially crudo, an Italian style raw fish dish.
The place did not really exude a date place type of atmosphere. The bar is small and kinda just thrown in there, with about 6 seats (but they have Hangar One vodka!!). The restaurant is located right off the theater district, and as expected most of the diners there when I went at 5:30pm were of the pre-theater crowd. The kitchen is remarkably efficient given the space, keeping things up at a good pace for the people who have to make their shows and slowing things down for people like me who were there to enjoy the food. The waitress mentioned that most solo diners like me who came for the food tended to come from within the restaurant industry.
Ok, let's get to the food. The basic tasting menu is $75 and includes one sample of the crudo. For a $25 supplement, 5 additional samples of crudo were provided. A spanish mackerel bruschetta with cannelloni beans was provided for each diner to start.
The 6 crudo were:
(I think Belon) Oyster
Fluke with black radish
Horse mackerel with a dried tomato sliver
Razor clam with scallions and peppers
Sea urchin with caponata oil in its own shell
Most of them were simply dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Simple and definitely fresh flavors. I was disappointed with the razor clam that seemed too covered with other stuff and the piece was too small to really get much flavor. The portion of sea urchin was also small.
Next was the Spaghetti Neri. This is on the regular menu. House made squid ink spaghetti with cuttlefish, green chilis and scallion. While there wasn't much in the way of extras (cuttlefish piece) the flavor was fantastic. It's easy to make a sea urchin pasta taste good because of its creaminess, but not all chefs can make a squid ink pasta that manages to really get the taste through. This was very very tasty.
Next was the Squalo alla Siciliana. Sicilian style mako shark. The preparation that I had seemed different than the version described on the regular menu. It was lightly breaded and cooked medium with some leeks and spinach. Great nutty taste and texture. I was very impressed by this dish.
The final fish course was a local wild striped bass with mushrooms and something else. The fish was cooked as best can be for a pretty thick cut of that type of fish with the fish skin perfectly crispy. However, there was nothing here that wowed me.
Next was a simple cheese course. I've been getting lucky with cheese courses it seems because this was really tasty yet simple. Buffalo ricotta with a slight drizzling of honey. The cheese was creamy without being heavy and the honey gave it that slight sweet and nutty flavor that just matched perfectly.
The dessert was an affogato di gelato. A vanilla gelato with some mascarpone cheese on top with a shot of espresso thrown in. A tasty typical italian dessert.
Overall the meal was great, the portions were just right, although I strongly suggest getting the crudo supplement if you choose the tasting menu. I will definitely be back.