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Esca Report [split from Home Cooking]

steve h. Sep 29, 2012 09:44 AM

Deb and I had supper last night at Esca, Dave Pasternack's superb seafood restaurant in Manhattan. We settled in with a glass of prosecco and a lovely amuse. We followed that up with six tastes of crudo in two flights. Highlights included the pumpkin swordfish, fluke with sea beans and radish, house-cured salmon roe and a killer Spanish mackerel with caper berries.

Next up was a baked Jonah crab with acorn squash, sage and Ritz crackers for Deb and a grilled octopus with giant corona beans and preserved sorrento lemon. Our pasta course was a shared spaghetti neri - squid ink spaghetti with seppia, green chills and mint. We washed it all down with a Sardinian red from AA Panevino (the winemaker was a baker). Dessert was the house-made gelato, a grappa for me (Nardini Riserva), Moscato for Deb and an espresso. Service and food were exceptional as always.

All this was prelude to the Melody Gardot concert at Town Hall. Unlike many of today's divas, Melody does not seek to impress with excess volume and piercing range. Rather, she seduces with nuance and restraint. I was amazed how she and her musicians (TWO trap sets, bull fiddle, guitar, sax with Melody on piano and guitar) could seamlessly transition styles from Brazilian, to Spanish, to Caribbean, to the blues and back to jazz. All-in-all a very impressive concert. Thanks, twodales.

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  1. twodales RE: steve h. Sep 29, 2012 10:52 AM

    Steve: That meal sounds amazing! I am definitely a seafood lover...always have put it down to the Swede in me. Now you've got me craving grilled octopus.

    So pleased that you and (hopefully) Deb enjoyed the concert. Melody is certainly something special in this day and age. I like her recordings but seeing her live is a whole different experience.

    I found her song "So We Meet Again My Heartache" on You Tube. Despite the fact that it has a Spanish gypsy feel to it, it makes me want to arrange a beret on my head, pour a small glass of Pineau des Charentes and light up a Gitanes...even though I don't smoke. LOL!

    It's a nice feeling to share something good these days.

    2 Replies
    1. re: twodales
      steve h. RE: twodales Sep 29, 2012 11:52 AM

      She's an extraordinary talent backed by savvy musicians not afraid to break some rules and have a bit of fun (bull fiddle playing lead? a tambourine solo?? a metal washboard for percussion??? how about the woodwind guy playing two saxophones simultaneously????).

      I think Melody shares all this stuff with her audience because that's what she loves (no focus group here). She treats us like insiders. We get it and appreciate it.

      In a perfect world, I would listen to her and her orchestra in a small club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. She would perform until just before dawn. Dr. John would be at the table next to Deb and me.

      1. re: twodales
        steve h. RE: twodales Sep 30, 2012 02:34 PM

        I know a few restaurants scattered across the U.S. that really "get" grilled octopus. The version at Esca is my current favorite.

      2. mariacarmen RE: steve h. Sep 30, 2012 10:39 AM

        that squid ink spag is killing me! with the chilis and mint? fabulous.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mariacarmen
          steve h. RE: mariacarmen Sep 30, 2012 02:31 PM

          It's an interesting dish. The sweetness of the cuttlefish and the freshness of the mint somehow play off the heat (yeah, real heat) of the chills and the heaviness of the squid ink. I've been ordering this dish for years and it never disappoints. It's not for everyone.

          FWIW, it's traditional to share the pasta course at Esca.

        2. gingershelley RE: steve h. Oct 1, 2012 09:19 AM

          Steve - Esca and the concert sounds terrific! Nice meal (want Octopus for dinner, now!), and I will have to check out this singer U and 2dales are 'singing' the praises of...

          1. ttoommyy RE: steve h. Oct 1, 2012 10:01 AM

            Nice to hear good reviews of Esca. My partner and I were there earlier in the year and loved it. The food is well executed and the service is top-notch.

            1. p
              Pan RE: steve h. Oct 4, 2012 10:52 PM

              Thanks for the great report!

              The one thing that sticks out to me as odd is the Ritz crackers. Were they serving actual Ritz crackers at a high-end restaurant, or were these in-house artisanal versions thereof?

              4 Replies
              1. re: Pan
                steve h. RE: Pan Oct 5, 2012 09:33 AM

                They were crushed and used as part of the binder for the baked crab. It was a tasty dish. I highly recommend it.

                1. re: steve h.
                  ttoommyy RE: steve h. Oct 5, 2012 12:35 PM

                  I had heard of this before and a quick Google search brings up tons of crab cake recipes using Ritz crackers. I think it's great that Esca does this!

                  1. re: ttoommyy
                    steve h. RE: ttoommyy Oct 5, 2012 01:33 PM

                    Esca can be pretty special.
                    First-timers will discover noise (hubbub to some) is well above average, staff will scoot you out the door if you have a show to see (wheel 'em in, wheel 'em out), the tiny (five seat?) bar is routinely jammed.
                    Go back a second time, the pace slows for you and you can begin to get the flavor of this place: wines, service, the freshest fish, digestif.
                    I like Esca, I like it a lot.

                    1. re: steve h.
                      ttoommyy RE: steve h. Oct 5, 2012 01:43 PM

                      We were there (my third time?) for my birthday this past February and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are an out-of-towner/tourist/theater goer, you can have one experience; if you let your wait person know you are a local and there for a relaxed evening, it can be a totally different one. Both are great; it just depends on what you are looking for.
                      And the spaghetti with lobster is absolutely amazing.

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