It was a slow, rainy Friday, so what better thing to do in the middle of the day than go for a fancy lunch with your coworkers? Indeed--so off we went, skipping through puddles and poking people with our umbrellas, a few blocks west of our office to Esca.
I had been to Esca once before for a work lunch, and it was delicious. Esca is the heavily seafood-focused outpost of Mario Batali's empire, and even though I don't partake in the seafood portion of the menu (that is, about 90% of it), the food is truly excellent. The restaurant itself is bright and subtly fancy, nondescript in a nice way (the only complaint I have with the decor is the chairs, which lean back slightly and thus are really uncomfortable). The servers are professional and competent. And it's expensive.
So anyway, AA, SG, and MK and I sat at our white-clothed table, sipped diet cokes and San Pellegrino, and ordered our food. In the meantime, the waiter brought over the amuse bouches-- little toasts covered in a salad of white beans and tuna. The tuna is somewhat hidden, and last time I was there I fell for it and took a big bite of the toast before I realized it had fish in it. It was good, just... very...fishy. This time I passed, concentrating my energies on the lovely olives instead.
But there was also the bread man-- my favorite fixture of any restaurant. He was offering crackly white peasant slices and whole-wheat focaccia. Yesssss. My piece of focaccia was mercifully un-oily, pleasantly whole-grainy, and topped with a crust studded with large crystals of salt. Top-notch.
Our appetizers arrived promptly (which was good because we were a bit time-pressed). AA had selected the crudo, three selections of marinated raw fish. He pronounced it superb.
MK got the caprese, with big wedges of fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes. I tried a bit of the caprese, which was truly good (full of tangy buffalo-y goodness). The oven-dried tomatoes were good but a little weird, with concentrated, chewy tomato essence and a lot of oil. Interesting.
My own appetizer, which was also my entree, was the fall vegetable salad. I had requested dressing on the side, but our server told me they couldn't do that. Ummmm, really? All right...He said he'd ask for light dressing, but the salad arrive drenched. Oh well. It was really flavorful, with tiny, cooked veggies like beans and carrots and beets and some other things I couldn't identify. There was also a nice big scoop of fresh ricotta, which I ate with the remainder of my whole wheat focaccia.
For entrees, AA, SG, and MK all ordered the spicy lobster spaghetti. There were big chunks of lobster (one pound, as the menu claimed), including lobster claws, which is always a good sign. Apparently the dish is a favorite of theirs-- and it was thoroughly appreciated by all three parties.
We skipped dessert and coffee to head back to the office (boo). The lunch was a lot of fun, and the food was definitely superb. The only service lapse occurred when a runner came over to the table and poured me a full glass of iced tea, unordered (of course). I said, "what's that?" and he said, "Iced tea." Then he stared at me. I stared back. Then he realized I hadn't ordered it, laughed hysterically, and whisked the glass away. Oh well. Esca is definitely a four-Offset-Spatula restaurant, and if you have the funds, I'd recommend checking it out, for lunch or dinner. Hopefully someday I'll get there for dinner and see what it's like then...
402 W. 43rd Street, at 9th Avenue