Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An ugly fish shows up at lunch

John Dory. Drawing by William MacGillivray.Image via Wikipedia
John Dory is a fish designed to eat, not to be eaten.

We love whole fish -- my wife takes the head, my son slices off the tail section and I devour all that delicious flesh in the mid-section.

So I didn't know what to make of the scrawny specimen that was put down in front of me today at Esca, a seafood restaurant in Manhattan where my wife and I had a $24.07 lunch.

Looking at the Restaurant Week menu, I thought offering a whole fish was generous in view of the price. Boy, was I wrong. 

I ordered the first course -- a crudo of Spanish mackerel -- because I had never eaten that fish raw, but the two pieces were the size of postage stamps.

My wife had a salad of wonderful greens with a whole-pistachio vinaigrette, and we both enjoyed the complimentary two dozen Gaeta olives and some marinated white beans on toasted Italian slices.

The oven-roasted, whole John Dory fish (photo above) was one of three entree choices -- my wife chose homemade tagliatelle with rock shrimp in a pesto sauce. She said it was a bit  salty. 

I have never seen such an ugly fish. It looked like it had gone on a crash diet before it was caught. The delicate, white flesh was delicious; there just wasn't very much of it. It was mostly bones, with an ugly head.

And it wasn't hot when I got it.

There was only one choice for dessert, a small lemon cake with fresh berries and an odd-tasting custard. The waiter said the kitchen was unable to fill my request for berries only.

This was my third visit to Esca, but I was disappointed. I left only a 15% tip.

Esca , 402 W. 43rd St., Manhattan; 212-564-7272.

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  1. http://thejohndory.com/

    If you had an Android with you you could have looked up John Dory and you'd have discovered just how odd looking a fish it is before you ordered, and then you could have switched to the wild caught scungilli instead.

  2. A branzino fillet was one choice, but you now see that fish at restaurants all over the city and North Jersey.

    Still, I would have preferred it to the bony specimen I was served.

  3. u always leave a 15 percent tip.

  4. That's not true. Even if it was, so what?

    You should be more concerned that restaurant owners are screwing you by taking the focus off their lousy hourly wages and putting all the focus on how much you tip.

    I was all ready to give an 18% tip before we had lunch at Esca, but the bony fish and the long wait between courses led to me to revert to $15%.

    Now that you bring it up, the way restaurants include the tax in the total bill may lead some people to tip on the tax. I never do.

    If you know the tax rate (7% in New Jersey), you can use it to calculate the tip: double the tax and add a dollar or two to get 15% or triple the tax and deduct a dollar or two for 20%.

    I don't now the tax rate in the city. Is it more than 8%? So I usually calculate the tip before eating, especially here where you know your food total is going to be $24.07.

    Is that OK with you?


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