It’s been a while since I wanted to go to Esca, an Italian restaurant located in Hell’s Kitchen, few steps from Port Authority. There, Chef Pasternak serves an incredible menu that is seafood focused and with limited choices if you are vegetarian, odd for an Italian restaurant as you can make a great vegetarian pasta dish quite easily.
The place is big, but I found some of the tables on the side (where we were seated), to be too close to each other. We went on a Friday evening and we could see that lots of people were dining there before a show as it emptied before 8pm, becoming a bit quieter as otherwise noisy (especially that single table of 4 people that could make you think they were 15 and the only patrons).
I started the meal with the Esca Spritz that was good but would have been better with Aperol.
While Jodi had one of their homemade sodas made with Madagascar Vanilla that was quite good, not too sweet.
At the same time, they brought us some olives, focaccia and bruschetta. At first, we got two made with mackerel and white beans (pretty interesting), but then they must have remembered that Jodi is vegetarian and they brought her a bruschetta with peppers.
For my appetizer, I went for their Pesce Azzurri, a fish combo where you can pick one, two, three or four of the following:
House marinated Sardines with peperonata;
House marinated fresh anchovies with oven dried tomato;
Grilled sardines with shallot and thyme vinaigrette;
Bottarga Di Tonno (Cured tuna roe) with capers, raisins and pine nuts.
This was a great appetizer: I loved the fish that was not overpowered by any seasoning or sauce and was the star of the dish at the exception of the tuna roe that I could barely taste, the whole thing being way too sweet.
For her entree, Jodi got their gnocchi di ricotta or old Chatham sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi with a sauce made of pumpkin, Calabrian Chili and buffalo mozzarella. This was very good: the gnocchi were very soft, literally melting in my mouth.
On my side, I could not resist ordering the Spaghetti Neri or squid ink spaghetti with sepia and green chilies. That first bite was amazing: the spaghetti itself was amazing, perfectly cooked al dente in a sauce that was spicy but succulent. My mouth was a bit on fire but it was so good that I kept eating. I would reorder this dish over and over.
Last was dessert: surprisingly, there was no tiramisu, so we went for the ricotta bomboloni that are small Italian donuts filled with ricotta that have been dusted with espresso sugar and that are sitting on a maple date cream. The donut itself was really good: not doughy and slightly crispy. However, the ricotta cream was a bit bland and I would have preferred either vanilla cream, Nutella or even nothing.
Still, it was a good way to end a delicious dinner. I especially loved the appetizer and the pasta dish that was phenomenal! I would definitely go back to Esca and reorder it. In fact, i am drooling just thinking about it...
Enjoy (I did)!
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Esca - 402 West 43rd Street, NY 10036