212 564 7272

43rd Street off 9th Avenue


Ever since Follonico closed some years back, we've been looking for a new absolute favorite Italian restaurant. We like I Truli, and we like Po, but we loved Follonico. There is excellent Italian food, and there is excellent, imaginative, personal Italian food. Esca has excellent, imaginative, personal Italian food.

The first thing you hear in a review of Esca is "crudo". There is a mystique to raw fish, perhaps because bad raw fish can be rather awful. We love our ahi sushi, and now we love our raw tuna carpaccio, pressed flat, drenched in olive oil, and seasoned with fat crystals of salt. We also loved the raw fluke, and the king fish with mandarin orange. We started with crudo, and we were impressed. At least now, we understand those reviews better.

Then we discovered the pastas. Esca makes its own pastas and clearly uses hard flour, for the texture was thick and chewy, and the pasta flavors outstanding. We have not had pasta like this since the golden days of Laghi in San Francisco. Our hands down favorite was the squid ink pasta with chunks of cuttlefish and jalapeno peppers. We ordered this one twice. We also went for the bigoli, a whole wheat spaghetti with mackerel and walnuts. This was hearty fare, as was the whole wheat pasta with sea urchin and crab meat. All of the pasta dishes were wonderful, though some were more subtle.

Did we mention that Esca is an Italian fish restaurant? Well, it is. The only concession to land grubbers was a lone chicken dish, so we dined on a superbly crisp, perfectly fried frito misti, with cuttlefish, clams, oysters and prawns. We had a pair of lightly floured and fried butterfish that melted in the mouth. We had the whole black bass, expertly filleted, with caperberries and olives, and the turbot with nectarine. Now we know why the Roman emperors loved their turbot.

We had three meals at Esca, dinner twice and one lunch, and every dish was truly wonderful, in the old fashioned sense of inducing wonder. The fish was fresh and full of flavor, and the preparations hearty and delightful. We had our fish deep fried, sauteed, roasted, seared and grilled, and, of course, raw.

The lunch menu at Esca was as good as the dinner menu, so now we have a truly great Italian restaurant in New York, and it gives us an excuse to wander the 9th Avenue food strip that has developed north of 42nd Street. Unfortunately, we are not all that likely to try any of those Afghan, Cajun, Thai, American or French restaurants we pass. We're going to Esca.

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