Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dinner at Esca (food, MomVisit09)

For our first dinner in Manhattan, I decided to take my mom to Esca. It's not ridiculously fancy, but I've never had a bad meal there. The food here is essentially Italian but they specialize in seafood, especially crudo, the Italian preparation of raw fish.

We started off with one piece each of the complimentary bean and mackerel bruschetta which was tasty. We didn't really touch the little dish of olives, and neither of the two bread choices (Italian and focaccia) were anything special.

First up we shared the wild orata crudo. Three nice sized pieces of wild orata (a type of sea bream) with a little sea salt, pepper, and meyer lemon olive oil. This was really really good. The flesh was soft yet plump and robust. I would say that the texture was like eating a raw scallop but better. The meyer lemon olive oil was delicious and not overpowering at all.

Next we had the fritti, which tonight was fried halibut cheeks accompanied by some fried artichokes, fried onions, and a little salad. I forget what the sauce was. The accompanying stuff was quite good actually, but the fish cheeks were really dry and tough. Disappointing especially since fish cheeks should be less tough than the rest of the meat in general.

On to the pasta courses, and we started by sharing the maccheroni alla chittara, which is a house made guitar-cut spaghetti with crab meat in a sea urchin sauce. Like I said before in a previous post, I prefer this version to the one at Marea, so I was looking foward to this. Tonight, however, it was very disappointing. It was salty. It wasn't so salty that I had to send it back, but I could definitely taste the salt overpowering a lot of the other flavors. We wondered whether it could have been something wrong with the sea urchin, since sea urchin wasn't offered on the crudo menu like it usually is.

With two strikes already on the night, things weren't looking too good. However, the spaghetti neri that came next hit it out of the park. House made squid ink spaghetti with cuttlefish, green chilis, and tomato sauce was a perfect combination of flavors and textures. The tomato sauce was flavorful while the green chilis gave it a nice kick to finish the bite. The flavor of the squid ink came through in the pasta, and this thinner version of spaghetti was perfect for the dish. The thicker guitar-cut pasta from the previous dish would not have worked as well.
Note that the above pasta photos were of the half-portions that we each got. So we were getting full when our final course arrived. The whole branzino for two cooked in a sea salt crust.

Here's what it looked like after they filleted the fish and dressed it with a little sea salt, pepper, and olive oil. There's nothing like fresh fish simply dressed. The salt crust kept the fish tender and moist, even after it cooled off a bit.

So even though there were a couple of strikes tonight compared to my previous visits, it was still a good meal overall, and the hits were really good. We didn't order dessert but they give you some petit fours and my mom had a cappuccino. The total bill including t/t was $190.

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