This is the last in my New York City vacation series. You can all breath a collective sigh of relief! In the truest sense of saving the best for last, I invite you all to revel in the splendor that is the chef's tasting menu at Esca.
Here's what Esca has to say about themselves: Created by James Beard award-winning chef Dave Pasternack, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in October 2000, ESCA is revered for its less-is-more approach, for its elegant simplicity. In his 3-star New York Times canonization of ESCA as the ultimate Italian seafood destination in New York, Frank Bruni coined Dave as "an honest-to-God fisherman, in love with the ocean, and ESCA is his ongoing ode to it."
Mario Batali? A 3-star Bruni review? Italian seafood in NYC? I smell perfect storm...
And a very fine meal is what I got when Preston and I sat down to the six course tasting menu, accompanied by a wine paired to each course for $120 per person.
We were first served an amuse-bouche of thin sliced sashimi grade tonno with sea salt, paprika, black pepper, and the same rich olive oil I remembered from my previous visit. We had chilled vodka with this as our cocktails were not quite empty from having initially sat down.
The first proper course was a Crudo del Mercato, which that day consisted of sea urchin. Now, I'm not going to lie; this was a stretch for me. The look of the food itself was odd but the innards on the tongue resemble a cross between an oyster and that weird gelatin that sometimes shows up in chicken stock. Funky. The flavor is somewhat like that of a mild oyster; you smell the flavor through your nose more than taste it on your tongue. But while the flavor was somewhat underwhelming it was also a new lesson in food, so very welcome in the end. This was the only unknown item to me on the menu, so I appreciated the chance to try it, even if it was to come to the conclusion that I would likely not order it again. The wine pairing was a NV prosecco from Flor, Veneto.
The next course was Burrata, a magnificent combination of mozzarella and cream -- the outside is firm, pure mozzarella and the inside is mixed with cream to create a heavenly, spreadable cheese. This was topped with a generous dollop of spoonbill caviar, a light grey egg from the American sturgeon. I'd say it most resembles Sevruga, for you Caspian purists. Preston and I both loved this course which was paired with Pecorino "Aries," Ciavolich 2008 Abbruzzo.
Next up was another strong showing from the kitchen: Seppiolini. These grilled whole cuttlefish were served with radicchio and chili oil. Now, I don't mind saying that this dish made me go out and buy a bottle of chili oil the next day I returned home -- I had forgotten how wonderful it can make seafood taste with just a drizzle. It also makes great salad dressings. But I digress. The waiter advised us to be very careful of the ink, as it had a tendency to sometimes squirt out (one is reminded of Grouch Marx and a fountain pen...), but luckily Preston and I emerged without that