Saturday, July 30, 2016

Enjoy extras at Esca from a chef who has 'a gold mine in the basement'

Edible 21-karat gold leaf crowning Goat Milk Gelato with Lime Spuma and Watermelon Granita, a dessert that was on the Restaurant Week menu at Esca, one of Manhattan's top seafood restaurants.


Esca is always my first pick when Manhattan's Restaurant Week promotion comes around.

The Southern Italian seafood restaurant doesn't stint on the complimentary extras, even when offering a three-course lunch for $29, plus tax and tip -- about half of what you'd pay if you ordered a la carte.

After we placed our order from the limited Summer Restaurant Week menu on Thursday, we received a pair of delicious Bruschetta with white beans and preserved mackerel.

Then, we were brought a small bowl of olives, and offered three kinds of bread. When I asked for extra-virgin olive oil for the bread, the server poured a generous amount in a small plate. 

I splurged on a 2-ounce tasting of three wines -- one with each course -- for an extra $17.

My wife's first course on Thursday was this wonderful Zuppa di Pesce Amalfitana, a fish-filled soup surrounding a tomato-and-chili bruschetta; I had Calamari, below. 

For my starter, char-grilled local squid was served with radishes, hot red pepper, lemon and parsley.

 Go fish

Our entrees were Lanzardo,  a whole grilled Boston Mackerel with Salsa Verde; and Lampuga alla Siciliana, grilled Sicilian Style Mahi-Mahi with Marinated Summer Beans and Toasted Sunflower Seeds.

I tasted both, and each fish was perfectly grilled with a nice char. My only complaint is that my meaty mahi-mahi could have used a little salt.

I envied a woman at the next table who ordered the third entree on the menu, Conchiglie, a generous serving of House-Made Shells with Mussels, Clams, Conch, Cherry Tomatoes and Smoked Chilis.

Complimentary Bruschetta with preserved mackerel, above, and olives, below.

I was lucky to get the heel of a large loaf of bread with a crust that was so crispy it shattered, plus delicious extra-virgin olive oil for dipping. The great service included cleaning bread crumbs and crust off of the table between courses.

Sicilian Style Mahi-Mahi.

Boston Mackerel with Salsa Verde.

Golden finish

We usually never order dessert, but on Thursday, we decided to try two Watermelon Granita with Goat Milk Gelato and Lime Spuma, and were rewarded with a piece of edible 21-karat gold leaf crowning the ice cream.

I asked one of the maitre d's circulating in the dining room whether we were, in fact, eating real gold.

He said yes, and to be considered edible, the gold has to be a minimum of 21 karats (24 karats is pure gold).

Then, he got a good laugh out of us when he said: 

"The chef has a gold mine in the basement."

The way I see it, Chef Dave Pasternack's gold mine at Esca is in the dining rooms and bar, though probably not if you order the price-fixed Restaurant Week menu.

The entrance to the main dining room at Esca, 402 W. 43rd St., near Ninth Avenue, New York, N.Y.; 1-212-564-7272.


NYC Restaurant Week runs through Aug. 19, offering a three-course lunch for $29 and a three-course dinner for $42, plus tax and tip, at hundreds of restaurants in Manhattan ($4 more than during the promotion in January). Reservations are recommended.

During the Restaurant Week promotion, you can get $5 back, if you use an enrolled American Express credit card and spend more than $35 in a single transaction, up to four times.


Seafood trattoria

Summer Restaurant Weeks

Spend $35, get $5 back

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