402 West 43rd Street off Ninth Avenue
about $190 for two, with drinks, with tip
I remember my first time in Esca as if it happened just last week. The $700 bill was split in four, my purse let out a small cry and I hoped that the next time my friends from Ireland visit, I would be able to afford dinner without wincing at the price. Several checks from other restaurants have since surpassed that moment so I knew it was time to go back to Esca. I was with the Dr. and I was armed with a more sophisticated palate for Italian cuisine and seafood.
So why did I think everything we ate was too salty?
We were tempted by the crudo tasting. For $30 each, we could have had six appetizers served in two flights but we wanted to save our appetites for the beautifully described pasta dishes. We started with half a dozen of the oysters and the geo duck ceviche. I’ve never had geo duck but I’ve always wanted to buy it from Chinatown just for laughs. The texture reminded me of abalone–tender and a little tough, but wait…I’ve had better ceviche than this before. Where was the chili and lime essence? My tongue was desperate for that spike. The oysters from Oregon were perfectly briny and all I wanted from the ceviche was more ocean taste to compliment and prepare me for the rest of our meal.
We had a very rich pasta course coming up so we decided to order two vegetable plates. The white asparagus was breaded and slathered with a thick sauce. I destroyed the brown crust–I wanted more asparagus than a fried casing. The insalata di porcini would have been my kind of salad if only it wasn’t overwhelmed with the cheese. I loved the beefiness of the porcini mushrooms and I was all over the mache, or lamb’s lettuce. I didn’t think the dish needed anything else; the cheese got in the way of the salad’s simplicity.
We were getting disheartened and knew that we only had one more dish to lift our spirits. The guitar spaghetti with sea urchin and crabmeat was to rescue the night! Alas, what we hoped for was a more Japanese treatment of the uni–bright and yet subtle–but what we got was an overpowering taste of cream and salt. I wish they left the uni alone to do its job with the crabmeat. It was supposed to be a rich and graceful dish, not loud and overbearing.
After two rhubarb bellinis and a panna cotta, we finished our meal and stepped out into the pouring rain. On our way home in the cab, we both wished Esca turned everything down a notch just like the faint tartiness in my drink and the delicate sweetness of my dessert.