Saturday, August 2, 2014

NYC Restaurant Week: A seafood favorite doesn't disappoint

Amalfi-style Fish Soup with Tomato and Chili Bruschetta at Esca in Manhattan.


It's the little extras that make lunch such a pleasure at Esca, a southern Italian trattoria in Manhattan that celebrates fresh seafood.

That's especially true during NYC Restaurant Week, when the restaurant offers deeply discounted three-course lunches and dinners ($25 and $38, respectively).

On Friday, my lunch began with a gift from the chef -- a white-bean crostini bursting with the flavor of preserved mackerel.

Other nice touches were complimentary olives with a thin, hot pepper and a small bowl for the pits; the crusty heel of a large Italian bread with fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and both lemon and lime for the whole fish I ordered.

For my first course from the bilingual menu, I chose the Amalfi-style Fish Soup with Tomato and Chili Bruschetta.

The filling, mildly spicy broth held several pieces of perfectly poached fish.

My entree was Spigola Nera, whole roasted local black sea bass with salty caperberries and olives.

Except for the scorched head, the fish was perfectly cooked and delicious right down to the crispy tail.

One quibble was the scorched head of the Whole Roasted Local Sea Bass, denying me the tender, juicy "cheek" under the eye. But the other side of the head wasn't overcooked and yielded the juicy morsels. A smaller plate for the bones was provided.
This crositini -- a gift from the chef -- was packed with the flavor of preserved mackerel.

Changing menu

My Friday lunch at Esca came during the second week of the semi-annual Restaurant Week promotion, which ends on Aug. 15.

About 300 restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens are taking part this summer.

At Esca, skate wing and whole porgy with salsa verde were offered, but neither was available on Friday.

My waiter explained the Restaurant Week menu changes slightly on an almost daily basis.

Still, the black sea bass was perfect for me, a lover of whole fish who delights in extracting every sweet morsel of flesh. 

Complimentary olives.
If you order the whole fish, you don't have to ask for lemon.
Part of the well-done heel of a large Italian bread -- soaking in extra-virgin olive oil -- an indulgence on my no-bread, no pizza diet.
New this summer, outdoor seating at Esca (Italian for "bait") means you'll have better chance of getting a table without a reservation.
Esca's Restaurant Week lunch menu on Friday.

Dessert to go

The waiter wasn't sure if I could substitute sorbet for the one dessert offered on Friday, Pistachio and Olive Oil Cake, so I asked for it to go and brought it home for my wife to enjoy.

I may try a forkful with its accents of watermelon, lime curd and aged balsamic vinegar.

I paid for my meal with an American Express credit card I registered, and will be getting a $5 statement credit.

That will bring the cost of this wonderful lunch to $27.22, with tax ($2.22) and a 20% tip ($5). That's a great deal at this white-tablecloth emporium of pristine seafood.

Take-out Pistachio and Olive Oil Cake.

Esca comes through

I've been enjoying Restaurant Week lunches summer and winter at Esca for years, and prize it even more now that I eat only seafood.

I've had only one disappointing meal there -- in 2011 -- when I was served a whole John Dory by a waiter who didn't warn me the fish was all bones, leaving me hungry and cursing under my breath as I searched in vain for flesh to eat.

See: An ugly fish shows up at lunch

Esca, 402 W. 43rd St. (Ninth Avenue), New York, N.Y.; 1-212-564-7272. The restaurant is two blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

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