The nicest Italian restaurants I’ve eaten in feature northern Italian cuisine, but there’s no getting away from it; when people think Italian food, they usually think pasta with red sauce. One of the best Italian restaurants in New York City, Esca, is indeed a southern Italian restaurant, replete with a great variety of Mediterranean seafood prepared the Southern Italian way, and enough fresh pasta (hold the red sauce) to satisfy that jones as well.
Esca is in Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s not the 1980′s; Hell’s Kitchen has come a long way, and West 43rd St is very gentrified. Esca is a good example – no trattoria this good would have bothered to open in Hell’s Kitchen when it was still a dark and scary place. Today it’s a walkable part of the city, with little bistros and elegant trattorias like this. Esca was started by combining the well-known talents of Mario Batali and Dave Pasternack, two chefs who deserve their fame. Seafood is the real star here, though, and even people who normally reject fish will find themselves converted.
The crudo – which is akin to Japanese sashimi – is a great place to start. Crudo appetizers include geoduck (despite its name, it’s a kind of big saltwater clam) and savory prawns, and tuna carpacchio. These are all, to a one, absolutely melt-in-your-mouth perfect. There are enough entree
selections to satisfy anyone – with refined tastes – such as spaghetti with chili and lobster, shrimp ravioli, and a sheep’s milk gnocci. These Primi courses are mostly in the mid-$20 range. The Secondi course offering are more expensive, of course, but worth the splurge. Try the tilefish with butternut squash. It is delicately prepared, and complemented by mushrooms and a hint of vanilla. It works. Also earning rave reviews are the red mullets with pinenuts and almonds, and the zuppe di pesce.
There are many Italian wine makes and vintages here, and we had the prosecco. The portions seemed small
when they arrived – albeit beautifully presented. However, we were too full for dessert. Ordering an appetizer, pasta dish, and entree will do that.
Now, this is an upscale best restaurant in New York City; you know it’s going to be expensive. While the prices keep ESCA from being a regular night out spot for most of us, it does make for a tremendously memorable dinner. Anniversaries, promotions, and other special occasions are often celebrated here. A couple or group celebrating a vacation in NYC should consider Esca for a fancy, upscale Italian seafood dinner.
402 W. 43rd St
NY, NY 10036