Here is my post from earlier this year:
We dined at Esca this past Saturday night, meeting friends from W. Hartford. To say that the owners have done a spectacular job in the design would be an understatment. Our friends, accustomed to the W. Harttord restaurant scene, walked in and wondered if, in fact, we were actually in Middletown (no knock on Middletown!). That being acknowledged, while we did enjoy the experience, there were some significant flaws. Here is how the meal went:
Apps: I had zuppa de clams (good, not memorable, but with 2 unopened clams in the bottom of the bowl - not acceptable for a $12 appetizer). The 3 others had baby romaine caesar salad. All agreed that, at best, it was "blah," and for $9, it was very sparse (and no croutons!).
I had osso buco, which was definitely fork tender, but curiously bland and quite dry. Not bad, but not great. The best part of the dish was the really delicious broccoli rabe.
My wife had scallops, which were really excellent. She had originally considered the sea bass, but when two plates were delivered to the table next to ours, a very strong "fishy" smell became evident, so she opted for the scallops.
Our friends had short ribs (which I did not taste but they were declared delicious) and paella. While I did not taste it, it was a very odd looking version. One of the key ingredients of any paella I have ever seen is saffron, and obviously, saffron creates a nice yellow/gold color. The rice in the paella was asbsolutely white in color, as if no saffron was used. While my friend enjoyed it, by any standards, it was quite strange looking.
The wine list was terrific and obviously well thought out, with a significant number of "outside the box" offerings. I selected a Villa Maria Pinot Noir (New Zealand) which is one of my current favorite moderately priced wines. After a considerable delay, the wine steward came back to the table to announce that they had run out, attributing it to the fact that it was also a "by the glass" wine. He stated that while they try to keep at least 6 bottles of each wine on the formidable list in stock, sometimes they run out. Frankly, it would seem to me that if they pour a particular selection by the glass, then 6 bottles is probably not nearly adequate. At any rate, he recommended the Calera Pinot (at $13 a bottle more than the Villa Maria) and we accepted that choice. While we all enjoyed it, it is clear that they may have to adjust their inventory levels, especially for weekend dining.
There is no question that Esca raises the bar for dining in Middletown. It attempts to create a real upscale experience, and with a little fine tuning, I expect that they will succeed. The bar was busy all night and it is clear that it has quickly become THE place to be in Middletown, and while nothing we ate was unacceptable, a bit of tweaking is definitely in order.
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lsnhc Jun 29, 2009 08:24AM
Last night on a recommendation from a friend my husband and I had dinner at Esca in Middletown, CT. The friend likened Esca to Grants in W Htfd. I’ve never felt rushed at Grants, but I certainly felt rushed at Esca. There was a good amount of traffic, but there were also open tables so I’m not sure why the rush. We asked if we could have a booth and were told they were setup for 4 people only, but the couple that arrived behind us was seated at a booth and they remained the only 2 people. The 3rd booth remained opened.
We ordered appetizers and told our waiter we would order our entrée after we had our appetizers. During our appetizers he twice tried to push us into ordering our entrée so we finally did order. Good thing we did not order our entrée along with the appetizers because the meal came out in very short order leaving us no time to really enjoy our martinis and appetizers and let them settle. If we had order the entrée with the appetizers, we would have been eating the appetizers and our entrée at the same time.
The carpaccio was good. The raw clams were fresh. The cioppino was also enjoyable. I order my lamb rare and while the lamb was good it was at best medium. I did not send it back as it was still okay and I was hungry, but had it been my husband’s choice of meal it would have gone back in a flash. The espresso was terrible. It was very bitter which usually means that the machine has not been cleaned.
Our waiter was very tightly wound with no sense of humor. When he took our bill which was a combination of a charge card and cash he did not ask if we need any change back. He also did not bring a change back and while we had figured out the bill exactly, I thought this was rude.
Would I go again? For that amount of money!!! I might give it a second try, but it will probably be several months before I do and then it will be for lunch. For our first time at Esca we probably should have done lunch. We should have stuck to our rule of testing out lunch prior to going for dinner. After all, if you can’t do lunch you can’t do dinner. We’ll see.