My 16 year old daughter has been taking singing lessons in the Film Center Building for about 4 months now, and while she sings, I wander around reading menus. We usually end up having dinner somewhere cheap before heading back to the Jersey shore. Yesterday, I discovered that Esca was practically next door.I like the looks of the menu, but I've since read online reviews, which were certainly mixed. But, I think I want to try it anyway.
So, here's the deal: She'll be out of school for the summer in June, and we'll be scheduling earlier lessons. I'm thinking lunch, either for both of us or for just me. She's an adventurous eater when it come to fish, particularly raw, so her sophistication level isn't a problem. But my own sophistication level isn't all that high, in terms of what to expect. Specifically, we don't have huge appetites, and I think we'd be satisfied with just an appetizer and one other course. What are the portions like (I've already heard that the crudo is a small portion)?If I wind up going solo, will I be better at the bar or a table? Some reviewers have complained about rudeness, and I'm no stranger to dining alone, but I am looking to enjoy myself, not do battle. I would like wine, but of course I'd be drinking alone.We (or just I) will probably go during the week at an odd, probably slow time.
What do you think? Would this be a pleasant afternoon?
I just went to Esca tonight for the second time. It never ceases to amaze me how different people can have such utterly different experiences at the same restaurant. Especially when it comes to service, which can be judged a bit more objectively than food I think. For me personally, each time I went to Esca the service was absolutely perfect--informative, attentive, and genuinely friendly without being obsequious. I am stunned that people have had bad service there. As for the food--the first time I went, I had some sort of corn salad and a sea bass entree--can't remember the details, but both were good enough that I knew I wanted to go back. Tonight, we had the following:
3 crudos--pink snapper (my favorite), hamachi, and salmon. What I would say is that if you are in the mood for this type of preparation, you cannot do much better than this. Someone posted below about ultimately preferring sushi, and I would tend to agree--but this was a refreshing change of pace.
2 pastas: squid-ink spaghetti with cuttlefish in a spicy chili sauce (really rather spicy for my taste, but delicious nonetheless and perfectly prepared) and fettucine with a tuna bolognese sauce (pure comfort! yum.)
branzino for 2, baked in a crust of sea salt. This is what made me want to write about the meal, and not because I have fancy words to describe it. Simply because it was so flavorful and delicious that I hope others will try it! Simple flavors--salt, pepper, olive oil, the lime I squeezed over it--but just unbelievably amazing.
For $60 pp, I was delighted with this meal. My 2 companions were as well. But what can I say? To each their own...
re: ulterior epicure
ulterior, I just ate there the other night, had the uni pasta, and I was sitting at the bar next to a gentleman who works there who assured me that the ONLY ingredients in the pasta "sauce" were uni and crab, and perhaps a touch of salt. I fear that what you (and I) thought was butter was actually unctuous uni.
re: ulterior epicure
We always have a great time at ESCA and this time (2/19) was no different. So I get some of the critics above on this thread. Some people don’t like Esca. I believe the reason for this is that they order the wrong dishes (and follow the advice of the wacky waitstaff). This can be remedied.
I went with four people. We called in the afternoon for a reservation and were told that 6:15pm would work. (HOT TIP! Esca sometimes holds tables back which don’t appear on opentable. If you see no opening on opentable then call the restaurant and many times they have a table…) We were told that they only had a table next to the bar – which sounded fine to us since we are kind of tranny messes anyways.
So we ambled into the restaurant at 6:15 – the place was full! Where is the recession (I ask)? We were seated by the bar in a totally decent table. I don’t know why they were describing the table so derogatorily on the phone. On one side of us was a date of two 50ish people who I think met online but I was unable to listen enough to get the full details. On the other side was a solo dinner who over the course of the meal ate as much as our four top and downed - 2 cocktails, a bottle of wine, and a glass of port – it was kind of awesome (particularly since he did not vomit in the restaurant).
So here are my top tips for dinning at Esca:
1) Do not follow what your waitress/waiter urges – the waitstaff at the restaurant in my times there have some bizarre ideas. They seem to think everyone should order a Crudo, Appetizer, Pasta, Fishdish, Desert (if you order all of this you will likely throw it up). They also try to push some of the more unappetizing dishes (and Esca has these in spades – the menu is a mine field).
2) Don’t order a main fish course. The restaurant tries to push this Salt Crust Baked Fish which is very pretty while in the salt crust and for what it is is very good – but it is completely boring and plain and expensive… as all get out for what you get… (60+ dollars for two smallish pieces of white fish with some olive oil on top --- no way!). The other fish entrees are equally discouraging so do not be mislead by the staff.
3) Avoid the Crudo Tasting. (Hot Tip: This is another mindfield! The Crudo Tasting (30$) is six small portions but sadly it always features 2-3 items which are straight up nasty. Now I like raw fish a lot but some of the Crudo stuff is just odd and very much grin and ‘bear’ it eating). I always have to pretend like I like it so I seem sophisticated but honestly I hate it!
4) Don’t get the big eye tuna crudo. This dish just doesn’t have that much tuna and what tuna there is –is pounded thin and has no taste.
5) Order Pasta! The pasta’s here are the highlight of the menu along with the Crudo.
6) Appetizers are excellent. They are priced about right 15-18$ and are decent portions and very good and creative.
7) Deserts are good. I really like the assortment of sorbet and gelato.
8) Wines by the class are decently priced. The wines come in 250ml for roughly 15-20 dollars which is about 2 glasses (they way they pour it).
9) Oysters are very good! They are expensive at 3$ each but they are very good.
Some Gripes (please listen to these Lydia!):
1) Allow folks to order an assortment of oysters. We were told we could only order a minimum of 6 of each oyster not 3 of one type and 3 of another. This is just strange…. And very odd. And rude… and pissed me off… and I have never heard of something like this before. (all the oysters are the same price… how difficult is it do a mix in an order of 6)
2) Reduce the prices. Prices in the past year have gone up at Esca. It can be a very expensive proposition if one follows the waitstaff advice (to eat 10lbs of food a person). The prices should come down a little bit – but they seem busy so who am I to know.
Ideal Meal (order this and your group will be happy):
Seabass Crudo (they have different types and all are very very good)
Octopus and Fava Beans Appetizer
Bay Scallops Appetizer
Spaghetti with Mint and Lobster
Guitar Pasta with Crab and Sea Urchin (very good – the one we had this week was too salty but it is usually very good)
Glass of Muscato
Great Post!! If you asked me what restaurants to CH posters consistently write negative posts about because they ordered ALL WRONG it's Esca, No doubt!
Couldn't agree more about the Crudo tasting..it is a waste.. I don't need bluefish, porgy or mackeral (sounds more like a baitshop to me)...however, some of the crudi (?) are out of this world like the pink snapper with olive oil and pepper corns....the spaghetti with mint and lobster is the best regular menu pasta in the city, IMO...
I feel the need to pile on.
Esca is without a doubt one of the better restaurants in NYC, if you know what to order. I love the comments from a previous poster about ordering fish on Sundays-Mondays. Dave(the chef) catchs many of the local fish himself. Dave loves his craft and would not serve week old fish.
Esca has been in my rotation since 02, Simon and the rest of the staff there are super nice and always serve great food and wine.
Hey I wanted to provide some more feedback on ESCA I took the BF there on Saturday night and we had a wonderful time.Seating:
So we arrived at 7:45 for our resy. The place was doing crazy turnover. Because it is in the theater district everyone seems to be turning over and movin’ on out at this time. They took our coats and we were seated in the second dining room (not as nice as the main one since it doesn’t have plush seats). Very fast and efficient. Our waitress was excellent.
6 oysters – ½ one kind and ½ the other. The last time I was there they forced us to have 6 of each kind. Clearly they read my last post (yeah right) or our last waiter was just a big ole’ douche. Anyway the oysters were.. fantastic! Seriously some of the best oysters I have had. Even at 3 dollars a pop these were good.
Sea Bass Crudo – very good. Three pieces of raw fish with black lava salt (black lava salt has a little sharper flavor and I like it). World spice in seattle has it for sale retail and it is well worth the investment.
Arctic Char Crudo – good. Arctic char is like seabass had sex with a salmon. The prep though was similar to the Seabass Crudo. Very fresh and awesome.
Polipo - This was octopus and fava beans. I realized that my affinity for fava beans makes me like this dish more than others. The BF found the fava beans very fava ish. I liked it.
1 lb Lobster and spaghetti – awesome and very good. The bf hates mint which is part of this dish but he was able to pick it out. I think it was really good. The three ladies across from me (I think they were a mother and two daughters) described this dish as disgusting. They were wrong. They then in my favorite moment of the evening told the waiter who asked why they were picking at the shells – that they liked it. Personally I think the dish is great and the noodles are cooked perfectly.
Desert we had the chocolate gelato with espresso poured on top. Very very good.
Tangerine Cosmo – Excellent and at 11$ not that terrible of a deal.
Bellini with blood orange – very good. The bf had this and really enjoyed it.
2 glasses of white from the wine list by the glass- so one of the great things about esca is their wines by the glass are served in 250ml portions which is about a glass ½ to 2 glasses for 12-15 dollars. These were very good.
2 glasses of lemoncelo – the lemonchello is made in house and tastes that way! Aka it is as nasty as lemoncello should be. I love it. The bf made me finish his. I was very pleased since I got extra
Esca was great. All around us people were having wack as food. Aka crudo tating. Aka side dishes of veggies. Aka salt baked fish. I loved it. I was happy. The bf was somewhat happy.
The total was 240$ with tip which is kind of expensive but I thought worth it for the food. The waitress was fantastic so the bill reflects a tip of 25%.
I have only been to Esca once, but I would never go back. I went shortly after Bruni's reviews and it was a true disappointment. I admire the attempt at simplicity, but when you spend that kind of money you at least want the fish cooked properly, and not consistently overdone, if they are going to refuse to sauce it. For less than half the price I could have gone to Citarella and prepared several of the dishes at home (except the uni pasta) with better results.
Oh, and it was pretty off-putting to see the *much* better treatment received by the table of girls in skimpy tops who apparently knew one of the waiters.
I recently had a lunch here with a few friends. (A more comprehensive review (with pictures) can be found at the ulterior epicure (http://ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com/2008/05/18/bait-and-tackle/)
Is Esca as INSANELY good as some claim it is? I don't know, I've only been once. But, based on this one visit, I'd say no. That's not to say that there weren't singular sensations, like the "Spaghetti" primo with chilis, mint and a one-pound lobster and the "Linguine" with Mahongoy clams, hot red pepper and pancetta.
Ever the seasonal chef, Pasternack's menu was chock a block with the treasures of Spring. There were ramps, fiddleheads, soft shell crabs, and shad roe.
Here's what the four of us managed to polish off:
Crudo: bluefish, bonito, and snapper (2 orders)
Porri Selvatici: crostini of ramps and tuna bottarga
Prosciutto d'Oca: House-cured wild goose prosciutto with California asparagus
Fegato di Pescatrice: Seared monkfish liver with dates, wild spring greens and dandelion honey vinaigrette.
Bresaola di Tonno: Tuna prosciutto with a salad of baby arugula
Linguine: with briny Mahogany clams, hot red pepper, and pancetta
Spaghetti: with chilis, mint and one-pound lobster
Bigoli: house-made whole wheat spaghetti with sardines, walnuts and fennel compote
Maccheroni alla Chittara: House-made guitar-cut spaghetti with sea urchin and crab meat
Orata Americana per Uno: whole-grilled local porgy for one (or for two) with salsa verde
Uova di Cheppia: sauteed shad roe with house-pickled vegetables and whole grain mustard vinaigrette
Pesce Sera: local bluefish with asparagus, sugar snap peas, fiddleheads, and mint
Polipo: grilled octopus with giant corona beans, preserved Sorrento lemon, and rosemary vinaigrette
Contorni: beets, baby carrots, spring onions, mushrooms, and green beans
The antipasti were, across the board, the weakest dishes. The low point being the Fegato di Pescatrice (seared monkfish liver). It was off: muddy and fishy. I can understand the temptation to cast it with sweet accompaniments, since it is somewhat similar to foie gras, but the dates and the dandelion honey vinaigrette sent this dish sailing past restrained into cloying territory.
The crudo, for which Pasternack is best known, was very fresh. But, at this point in our world's culinary development, quite boring. Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, this trio of raw fish, slightly marinated with olive oil and a touch of citrus, might have been revolutionary. Now, it just seems like raw fish slightly marinated with olive oil and a touch of citrus. This is not to understate the freshness and simplicity (see the theme here?) of the three squares of meat; the bluefish and bonito, especially, had excellent flavor and texture. I've just realized that I prefer my raw fish left alone, or draped over vinegary rice.
The primi were the strongest dishes. The Linguine and Spaghetti were my favorites, each for their own reasons. The Bigoli was fantastic as well. Despite the lusty mix of sardines, walnuts and fennel compote, the texture of the thicker whole wheat pasta is what really what woo'ed me.
I think everyone at our table agreed (surprisingly) that the Maccheroni alla Chitarra was the least interesting primo. What's the point of mixing sea urchin in with (a lot of) butter? I want my sea urchin up front and center. The crab meat was nice.
The secondi were all very good, but paled slightly in comparison to the primi. The bluefish was outstanding, even without the side of fiddleheads, sugar snaps, and asparagus. The fillet of fish was exceedingly fresh and buttery, not trace of oily fishiness.
The grilled (whole) porgy was also rewarding, especially the salsa verde that came as a condiment. Polipo, coils of octopus tentacles atop a mound of giant corona beans, was typical of a Batali enterprise: impossibly soft and tender with charred, almost crispy, edges.
I don't think that there was a more impressive dish than the sauteed shad roe. The inside was perfectly done; a consistency not unlike thick, warm grits: sturdy, textured, but creamy. The side of pickled vegetables really helped cut the richness.
The table of octogenarians next to ours ordered the last (five) orders of the soft shell crabs done 2 ways (pan-fried and deep-fried). *Fist shakes*
A note on service: It was attentive and polite, if not unnecessarily placating at points (maybe the theater district crowd expects the theatrics?). There was a noticeably long wait between primi and secondi.
I wasn't doing cartwheels out of the restaurant. But, I don't think this type of food is supposed to prompt such a response. (After antipasti, primi, and secondi with contorni, such a reaction might actually be dangerous, if possible at all.) Esca's food is very fresh, it's properly-treated, well-executed, and it speaks for itself. For that, I'd happily return - especially for the price. The most expensive item we ordered (by $5) was the "Spaghetti," which given that it included a one-pound lobster, was very reasonable at $30.
Again, you can find a much more comprehensive review (with pictures) at the ulterior epicure. (http://ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com/...)
re: ulterior epicure
2 questions. How recent was this lunch? Shad roe's not on the regular menu, and I think the season is past. Is Esca still serving it? 'cause I might go just for that. And what happened to you that you needed to be placated by the waitstaff?
I haven't been to Esca in many years. I thought the sea urchin pasta was amazing, but that might be because Esca was probably the first place I had uni as anything other than sashimi.
re: ulterior epicure
I wanted to reply in this thread to report on Le Madeleine.Dd and I had a lovely lunch there thanks to you good people. Unfortunately, due to traffic issues, we arrived much later than expected, and the kitchen was about to close for lunch, but the waitstaff was kind and accomodating, and we were truly made to feel welcome. I had the braised lamb shank pasta and dd had the goat cheese pasta . I was interested in the skate wing, but the waiter encouraged me toward the lamb shank pasta. I wasn't sure if our lateness was the reason for his recommendation, but I went with it, and was very satisfied. The atmosphere was relaxing,even though everyone was setting up for dinner. My daughter enjoyed her dish. We met a lovely man at the next table who was finishing up a business lunch alone, after his associate had left,and when we were ready for dessert, I went along with his suggestion of creme brulee. Now, I really shouldn't have done this, because I make a pretty good creme brulee at home, and I wanted to try something different;particularly something with fruit. But the man was so charming, and wanted to share his pleasure with this, that I felt sort of obligated. It was very good, and I enjoyed it, but it wasn't what I would have ordered.But meeting this man, and our fascinating conversation,was really part of the whole experience. He was travelling to NY on business, but makes a point to eat at Le Madeleine whenever he gets the chance. He's more or less a regular, and the staff treated him as such. My daughter ordered the caramel chocolate mousse, and enjoyed it, but it was awfully rich, and she's a little bitty thing, and she had a singing lesson ahead of her, so she didn't finish. I did what I could to help,good mother that I am :).
My overall impression was that Le Madeleine is a place with warm service and fresh, lovely food. I'm sorry that we didn't arrive earlier, as I would have liked to try some appetizers (Nobody said we couldn't order them, but I felt a little awkward). We'll definately go back again, but not untl we try Esca. And we will. Because it's there. And I have to find out for myself.Dd's singing teacher loves the place, and recommends the uni and crabmeat pasta.What do you think of that particular dish?
We went and the review for us is mediocre to good but no where close to great. Lunch is how we test for dinner. If you can not serve a good lunch, why should I pay more money for a dinner. What my idea of an italian restaurant should be I really shouldn't carry from restaurant to restaurant... but I'm a creature of habit just like everyone else and I base my expectations on past experiences. I mean that to say that when I eat italian I expect to eat big and eat well. Anyway, its an iron-cref place so I expected it to break the bank ( especially after I saw the menu of this restaurant and its sister-restaurants online) In our opinion... good food costs money... and if its that good... just have it less often. The problem with ESCA is... it was okay, the portions were not appropriate for the seafood meals, and it still costs a lot.
APP SQUID INK RISOTTO RICE IN SQUID ROLLS>
Here the restaurant actually uses a squids body as a roll and stuffs it with squid ink risotto. There were four rolls which where about an inch and a quarter in diameter with a two tentacle sets which were like half a bite a piece. It was not memorable. Squid ink starches seem to scare a lot of places because it needs something really strong to make it flavor full and not bland. The challenge with this dish I felt was to make the rice stand out in flavor as well as color so that it could support the squid. Instead the rice stood in the back round and I was hit by the natural flavor of the squid with a backdrop of doughy-ness. Its been done before.
MAIN PRIMI BLACK SQUID INK PASTA W/ CUTTLEFISH
I can not complain about this dish except to say the serving was not staggering (at all) and it was a bit too salty. The sauce was a tamatoey sauce w/ heavy basil... which I do not mind. The cuttlefish tastes fresh and different.... which I appreciated. I thought the salt could have been toned down as the cuttlefish was not over powering. The tomato sauce was a nice supporting flavor for the black pasta.
MAIN PRIMI CHICKEN
I forgot what the chicken dish was called... because my girlfriend had it, but it was good. That was the softest, juiciest chicken thigh either of us ever had. Great dish.
Ironically the best dish of our visit was this non-seafood dish. (hmph) It was memorable and the porton was fair.
DESSERT LEMON CREME CAKE
Nice take on the lemon merengue pie. Not especially memorable but a nice dice all in all. The portion was fine.
The sea urchin and crabmeat pasta was my favorite of the dishes we ordered. Creamy with lump crabmeat and the guitar cut pasta was really rustic and different. Because the noodles are so toothsome, it's very filling. I would suggest you split it with your daughter, along with other dishes you are interested in trying. Three of us split two crudos and were full after splitting that pasta but the waiter had made us order another dish, even though it was early, we'd had drinks, and didn't really want anything else. But the squid ink pasta was pretty good--had a nice spice to it. Wished we'd gone with the pasta and lobster though. My friends liked the geoduck crudo best out of everything. We thought the quality of fish in the tuna belly crudo very good but the preparation kind of ordinary.
I did enjoy the food there although found the service suffocating. The waiter was very conscientious and overexplained everything. When one of my friends apologetically ordered a gin and tonic rather than the bellini he recommended, he said "that's a very grown-up drink" in approval (mock approval?) and he apologized right away when we looked nonplussed, but the whole service was like that. He treated us like naieve teenagers when really one of my friends is a mother of a 4-year-old and the other is an alcoholic, so no need to educate us on cocktails. And I don't think it was because we didn't initially order very much. Because he took our order for drinks first.
Since there is a cookbook out now with everything I'm interested in, I think I'll try to make the food myself rather than go back.
Esca is awesome. I went last Friday and had the crudo flight, sea urchin and crab maccheroni, local sea bass w/ braised leeks and the columbia sturgeon. Everything was delicious, interesting and fresh -- it lived up to the better hype and extinguished any doubts I had from reading a lot of bashing on this board. The fish was expertly cooked and some of the best I've had in some time. Desert, surprisingly, was equally memorable -- raspberry polenta cake topped w/ mascarpone that was on special. The wine list was nicely focused and they offered nice choices by the quartino as well (the sommelier is very helpful and forgiving of talkative clientele such as myself).
However, I must note they have not updated the online menu in sometime and many prices were much higher. The tasting menu is now $75 and $120 w/ wine pairing compared w/ $65 and $95 indicated in the online menu. Entrees were generally in the low $30s, the Branzino for 2 was $60 and individual crudo $15-18. Online, these items were mid $20s, $50 and $11-$13 respectively. It was a bit of a shock to see the prices since I pored over the online menu for the past week or so. In the end, the meal was pricier than Babbo, mainly due to the crudo flight (6 pieces for $30 per person). The dissapointing part of the flight was the inclusion of an oyster (priced at $3/pp a la carte w/ a min order of 6). It was good, but at that price point, I felt a little ripped.
Thanks for the suggestions. I noticed Le Madeleine at the same time I spotted Esca, and I've been peering into Marseille's window for months now, as it looks so inviting. It's good to know that they are both recommended. We'll probably both go to Le Madeleine first, because I'd hate to miss out on the experience if they're indeed forced to move. For some reason, Marseille I'd save until the fall or winter. It just looks so cozy inside on a winter's night.
But, it's not really an either/or situation for us, because we are making regular trips to this area. I can't help it; I'm intrigued by the menu at Esca. It's that whole concentration on fish thing. And I've never tried anything like that raw fish with olive oil deal,unless you count sashimi. I was a little worried about reports of rudeness, but the truth is, I've rarely encountered rudeness in any NY restaurant. Maybe, coming from NJ, I have a higher tolerance for occasional abrupt behavior. I've found the service at most places to be very gracious.
Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. And to steve h. and Dave W, thanks for the specific info. We'll probably do this after my daughter is out of school in June, and (because she doesn't want to be left out of anything) she'll be my dining companion. I'll report back, on both Le Madeleine and Esca, when we do this. Thanks again.
I'm a long-time fan of Le Madeleine, and would also recommend it (if it's still open and not closed by an evil landlord), but I've also eaten at Esca on a number of occasions and have always been perfectly happy there.
We usually start with 3-4 crudos and follow with a pasta each. Anything raw is good there. I have never had a bad experience with the service-in fact, they've always been very willing to discuss what's new and interesting. It's not the best space, but I don't find it much different than many other spots (certainly Le Madeleine, except for the bar tables and a few others is as closely packed as Esca.)
...forgot to mention that the wine list is outstanding (bastianich and lynch would insist). the bar is teeny-tiny but you can eat there if you choose. i like to meet my wife at the bar, enjoy a drink or two, and move into the dining area when we feel like it. rude service? never.
you should have a very pleasant afternoon.
I am one of those who is not an Esca fan since the one and only time we had dinner there, it was far from pleasing in every aspect. I found the food disappointing and the service, while not actually rude, was certainly extremely indifferent. It did not help that we were at the far end of a banquette where the table next to us was so close that I was practically sitting in the lap of the very nice lady to my right. This was pre-theater, and the place was packed. But I've never felt that should excuse any of these blemishes because we've been to many other restaurants pre-theater where, despite the scene being rather hectic, the food's been delicious, and service has been cordial, as well as efficient. I hold to the motto that a restaurant has only one chance to make a first impression. Obviously, in my case, Esca failed miserably to make a good one.
idia's Le Madeleine suggestion is a good one. I would also recommend you try Marseille, on the corner of 9th & 44th. The French/Mediterranean cuisine is excellent, and the brasserie setting has very attractive decor. We've always received very good service. I've seen solo diners seated at tables, and it looked to me as though that was holding true for them. But you can, if you prefer, dine at the bar.
I'm with you: Esca is one of the most overpriced, overrated restaurants in the city. I don't get it. I went last night, ordered the shark special. It was so heavily breaded and fried, it looked like something from the Gorton's Fisherman. The spaghettini with sea scallops was way too salty, perhaps to mask the fact that the scallops were slightly unfresh (were a bit metallic tasting and a smell, too, and not a good one), and the tuna carpaccio was tasteless. And their afogato (sp?) doesn't measure up to Al Di La in Brooklyn, not by a long shot. If I'm going to drop that kind of money on a fancy Italian restaurant, from now on I'm going to Babbo. I hate to say it, but that place lives up to the hype.