Friday, May 8, 2015

VIA CAROTA

Easily could Via Carota's website be ilovecarota dot com, like its sister restaurant www.ilovebuvette.com.  Because I do (it's hard not to), both of them.  Carota is virtually Buvette italianofied by chefs Jodi Williams and Rita Sodi, in a slightly airier space than its brethren just steps away.  They share a no-reservations policy, but arriving early enough even on a near-perfectly weathered Monday night (there is limited outdoor seating, all of which was full) there was no wait for a table in the humbly decorated dining room, windows flung out to a busy West Village side street, glasses clinking and a soundtrack I would actually buy the whole of straight out.
 That breezy availability of table might change drastically as either the hour of day or day of week progressed... busier nights have seen easy hour and a half waits.  But we were whisked in and seated pleasantly, water glasses filled immediately, the default house-filtered tap gratis (as it should be).  Menus are furled up in small cubbies in the back of the rustic wooden chairs, listing simple small plates ideal for sharing, but feasibly molded into an app/entree format too, if desired.

The greatest hiccup at Carota is deciding: literally 80%+ of the menu I would've been thrilled to have on my fork. Jody Williams and Rita Sodi have whipped up a market-pending list of seasonal delicacies with something for virtually every palate. The opening segment of the menu is Verdure, boasting fifteen different garden delicacies, thoughtfully categorized according to price: the eponymous carrots, some salads and beans in the $13, and pricier seasonal harbingers at $16.    This might seem a little dear for vegetables, but the portions are generous, and
 they are immaculately prepared.   Gem-like chianti beets (weighing in the middle at $15) , shiny as rubies with their gentle slick of oil, are mingled with translucent coils of pickly white onion and creamy, crumbly ricotta salata.  The vegetables themselves aren't too trimmed and perfect, giving them a farmy sincerity that becomes perfect in its own right.  Funghi are a wild mix with a heady, earthy perfume, perfectly roasted so their rich flavor is augmented by a bit of chew.  They disguise a luxurious blob of smoky scamorza, but consume quickly, as it's
 decadently melty splendor has an abbreviated lifespan.  There were two versions of artichokes on the high end of the listings, and two asparagi , green and white, from which we chose the green.  Numerous spears boasted smoky grill marks, dabbed with creamy caprino and flecked with herbs.

There are four pastas on hand, all priced in the high teens, but substantial enough to more than justify the price.  A wild boar ragu bedecked floppy pappardelle, and there was a special tagliatelle described by our waitress, along with a handful of other daily off-the-menu specials in all categories.  (She had quite a bit to remember, as well as struggle with a pretty feeble grasp of the
 prolific Italian on the menu.  But she was very sweet and helpful... even if that required running back to the kitchen to inquire about a correct response.)  From the quartet of Pesce options we chose a grilled orata with escarole and flavorfully bitey green olives, simple and savory, fresh as could possibly be.  The firm-fleshed fish flaked perfectly, and there was ample vegetable to accompany cites.  Given Carota is pretty vegetable-driven, this was kind of a given.  Twice-cooked lamb ribs, however,  served with a stewy chicercia of chickpeas and tomatoes, was
 not only veggie scarce, but the only disappointment of the night, the lamb far too fatty with a paucity of meat.  I might've been happier with a simple grilled chicken.. or even just another selection of Verdure.  Which would've made the meal here even more reasonable, but price-wise Via Carota is still a very moderate establishment.  If your bill ends up too steep, you probably over-ordered.... or indulged in their exquisitely curated wine menu, that while offering bottles and glassees at both ends of the spectrum, always pads the bill.

I guess dessert wasn't quite as magnificent a finish as I might have wished for, either.  But a simple dish of wine-sweetened raspberries topped with a thick dollops of zabaglione was still pleasant.  The raspberries had that supermarket-perfect appearance, though, making me wish for the months to warm up past April and bring on farmer's market bounty of plush berries and drippy sink peaches.  While the rest of Via Carota's menu can accomodate all the fluctuations and variances of seasonality, desserts always shine brighter in summer's abundance.   So while the restaurant as a whole is already a definite crowd-pleaser, I anticipate summer is when she will really hit her sweet stride.




Dal lunedì al venerdì 11:00—24:00 Fine settimana 11:00—24:00

 SENZA PRENOTAZIONE





Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LA GAMELLE







My first visit to Paris came when I was so young, never having traveled alone before, never really traveled at all, actually.  I arrived in the early evening, and ventured out for dinner at a typical neighborhood bistro: whichever nondescript address I happened upon first.  Perusing the menu with a puerile grasp of the French language, I ordered fish and potatoes, requesting the fish be not fried in butter, as best as I could mutter out in stilted French.  I meant not fried at all, but there it arrived, crispy golden-brown, a baffling disappointment.  My waiter reassured me "Oui, mademoiselle... it is not fried in butter.. it is fried in oil" with absolute sincerity.  Of course he was correct, but it didn't change my chagrin, and starving, I ate most of it anyways.  I don't remember if it was any good; I'm sure it was perfectly
 serviceable.  All I recall was the feeling of disappointment in both my linguistic capabilities and the lackluster first meal in the City of Lights: not light, and not culinarily memorable by any stretch.  So when I dined at La Gamelle, I suppose my experience was absolutely accurate in terms of authenticity and nostalgia of that first visit to Paris.

Not to disparage La Gamelle entirely- it expressly does what it intends to do: authentic French bistro fare, reasonably priced and humbly presented.  The room is Balthazar-esque- they even imported the bar from France.  It's a new French bistro in the neighborhood, for sure, but there's nothing new about it beyond that.  The menu is a fairly strict list of classics: the one item that I was preparing on ordering after a quick glean of the website  (a roasted cod with asparagus and salsify) was certainly the most novel option, but had already been eliminated upon my visit even though the space has only been open a couple of weeks.  It opened up the opportunity to order the asparagus "mousseline" as an appetizer, however, that featured many similar elements.   Tender asparagus alternated green and white underneath a heavy blanket of hollandaise, which didn't get much mousselined as I might have hoped, as the stalks were all but smothered underneath the bright herby sauce.    A French onion soup exhibited similar heft: a heady, rich broth
dense with melty onions and soup-soaked crouton, all of which was capped with the classic layer of thick gruyere.  All this just in time for bikini season.  Granted, these are absolute text-book perfect reenactments of classic French bistro fare.  They really couldn't be much more deftly executed.  But for my  tastes, there is a reason food evolves from that which was served a hundred years ago, and these plates seems mired in an antiquated heft.

As for entrees, you know what your getting yourself into with Steak Frites, served with the inevitable mountain of excellently crisp fries.  The meat was a little tough, though, surprising too since it was cooked less than desired: easily medium rare as opposed to the requested medium.  It was a nice, manageable portion- not too big or small, and enough fries for the table had we been  on a double date.  For just two, there were certainly frites to spare.  More sauce (Bearnaise this time) is on hand, but the mediocre meat could use it, and the fries don't suffer in its midst, either.  Having been slighted the roasted cod option, I took a whole grilled branzino in its stead, the crisp-skinned fish alone on the plate but for a halved lemon, but a side of rustic, course-chopped ratatouille-style vegetables arrived as accompaniment.  Too salty on their own, it helped cut the slight fishiness of the
 branzino, which tasted a little muddy and proved cumbersome to de-bone.   We also tried the garlicky haricots verts, which were a lovely emerald and perfectly tender, but sluiced in such a deep pool of oil it was prudent to let each one drip-dry momentarily before eating.  Or else this is when the bread basket comes in handy, as a swab.  The bread was good, though, too, fresh and sturdily crusted- a pretty good baguette by New York standards. 

The best thing we had all night by far was the nougat dessert, a frothy-light mousse studded with crunchy roasted nuts and a generous crown of chantilly.  A jammy puree of red raspberry accompanied in a silver pitcher aside, daubed on generously achieved the best bites.  Decaf is only offered americano-style, and was a little dirty and stale tasting, as if prepared from an old moka that needs to be re-seasoned.  And while  I wouldn't nearly categorize La Gamelle as dirty or stale,  it's definitely not on the forefront of innovation.  So if you're pining for the standards, you couldn't find a better purveyor.  "La gamelle" is French for the dish the dog eats out of; this little doggy would find more intriguing vittles elsewhere.


 
 
241 Bowery
tel.  (212) 388-0052

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

SANTINA

Every review I've seen thus far about Major Food Groups newest addition to the family has begun with mention of the Insta-summer sensation attainted as soon as you step inside Santina, escaping this year's endless winter.   So it might be redundant to do the same, but the contrast is so striking: literally, we passed through a glass door from intermittent flurries of snow to the palpably celebratory atmosphere of Santina, staff clad in a floral print dresses and white oxford shirts with turquoise trousers.  Palm trees fan out to buffer the geometric modernist architecture of room, designed by Renzo Piano.  But another
 contrasting element might catch your attention first: wildly whimsical Murano glass chandeliers dominate the decor, sporting vibrant glowing sunflowers, pastel orchids and pink pineapples sprouting from arching limbs of faceted glass.  These are truly the focal point of the restaurant... or are, at least, until the menus arrive.



These menus are bewitching, initially, to say the least.  Jubilantly printed a bright summery hues, the mystery of their listings might go temporarily unnoticed.  But without a proper q&a with your server, the tuna carpaccio in the Tricolore salad could come unwelcomely,  and what is in a pasta alla Norma, again, please?  Okay, so I knew these two, but not everyone can be expected to.  In fact, we felt as though we attained a few extra points on our virtual SAT scores (Santina Aptitude Test) when we deduced that under the Rice + Pasta heading, that the first three listings were the add-ins to savory pilaf-style dishes, and the remainder were the pastas.  These are main dishes.  None of this is necessarily clear at first glance however, so it's best to ask your server about everything, even if it would seem obvious, because curves are rife throughout.  I mean, a Tricolore Salad listed simply as such, apparently includes tuna carpaccio, which could be a potentially undesirable addition for multiple reasons, depending on the diner (although it has been receiving accolades).  Plus, they are used to it, so much so so that I'm not sure they will eventually change this enigmatic format (though I think it would behoove them to do so).  Time will tell.  Until then, about those rice dishes: they might be prepared in a pilafy manner for a reason,  to act as sponges for the saucy quality many of the dishes we tried exhibited.  There is no bread provided nor on offer, so all those brothy juices might potentially go to waste.  So it was with the Bass
 Agrigento, colorful and flavorful in an abundant sautee of sweet peppers, but the delicate fish suffered a bit from the wateriness of the brothy juices below.  Perhaps swapping it out with a richer fish- say, the Swordfish Dogana, which for its own sake was bedded in hearty white beans.  Pairing the bass with a less aqueous bedfellow, and the sturdier swordfish providing the peperonata with a sounder base.  (Just a thought.)  Both are still successful options, however, as Chef Mario Carbone intended them.

Prior to that, and perhaps stronger than the entrees, come Cecina (bites) and appetizers, which fall under the guise of Fish + Vegetables (not sure what they'll do if  Mario ever wants to introduce a meaty h'ors d'oeuvre into the mix).  
Beets Siciliana strike a laudable balance with the contrasting seasonality inside and out, perking up sugar-dense, hearty beets with bright citrus and a thick, pistachio-studded yogurt.  We couldn't figure out what the shredded greenery atop was, crisp and mild, but it turned out to be fennel, perhaps marinated or seasoned to some degree which imparted a pleasant, bitter edge that
overrode it's natural sweetness.  Normally, Sicilian preparation connotes a sweet and sour element, which was sort of elevated and  adapted to achieve these beets.   A true crowd-favorite thus far is the Artichokes & Grapes,  which combines meaty braised and crisply fried artichokes with stewed grapes and hazelnuts.  The grapes are cooked soft and winey, the artichokes both nutty and earthy in their two different renditions, a garlicky white dressing enforcing the savoriness of the dish, which does turn out to taste lighter than it's rich ingredient list might imply.

Another of Major's restaurant, Carbone, features a mushrooms sautee so stellar that at each of their subsequent restaurants, I am constitutionally required to order the indigenous version.  Here at Santina, they're a close rival to Carbone's: big, fat oyster mushrooms grilled to a toasty char on the edges and swimming in a pool of herb-flecked oil... perhaps with which I could've done with a little less off, but the fungi themselves were magnificently delicious.




Back to the Rice + Pasta, we selected the signature Chitarra Santina, an surf-and-turf square-cut spaghetti tossed with plump tomatoes and shell-on clams, spicy nuggets of lamb sausage and summery ribbons of zucchini.   Lamb and clams... my brother would be SO proud.  Spaghetti Blue Crab was a close-running second option, maybe slightly influenced by the broken-plate composite mural on the far wall, painted brilliant blue and galvanizing dreams of a seaside voyage to the Amalfi coast.  But at Santina, far as feelings go, you're almost there.







820 WASHINGTON STReET
 212-254-3000








Saturday, March 14, 2015

KIIN

A buzzy new Thai has opened up in the NYU nabe, taking over what was the fast-foodish Cafetasia to birth a sister restaurant to the hyper-popular Somtum Der even further east.  I've never been over to that one, but its popularity seems to have transferred successfully.  Even in these incipient days of soft opening, the tables were enthusiastically occupied, a steady stream of student walk-ins, 8th Street passersby, and a hodge-podge of in-the-know-fooderati and other curious diners.





The room reminds me of Tom Sawyer's fence, thickly white-washed to mask all evidences of it predecessor's clubby black modernism.  A few illuminated Buddha statuettes and distressed mirrors break up the stark, farmhousy feel, but mostly it is the jubilance of the staff that creates the ambiance.   Servers and busboys may harbor some distinct linguistic frailties, but they are quick to fetch someone who can attend to your needs, with beaming smiles all along.  The person they will most likely fetch, too, is the indefatigable floor manager, who guidance was both well-given and well-taken.  I thought he was maybe an owner, but Phakphoom Sirisuwat and Supanee Kitmahawong are a younger, male/female duo, and chef Kornthanut Thongnum (yes, I'm glad they didn't name the restaurant after its proprietors) was certainly busy in the kitchen to be romping about the floor.   But our guide was so endearingly charming, he alone would motivate a return visit, even if the food wasn't alluring enough.  Thankfully, it is. 


We went with quite a few of his suggestions, the first of which he declared his favorite, a fragrant duck soup.  It's a strikingly flavorful bowl, the ruddy broth lurking below a similarly profound layer of vermillion oil.  How he could remain so lithe and consume this on a regular basis remains as mysterious as the nuanced layers of flavor, sweet and floral, bright and spicy, fruity and rich.  I was equally mystified about how to consume it: the oil slick constituted a barrier, to me, between the curry-inflected soup beneath, the hunks of rich duck meat and random fruity bits of loquat and grapes within.  Stirring things up dissipated some of the oil, but it might still be off-putting to the even remotely bikini-conscious.  Also, as the philosophy of the restaurant dictates sharing any and all.... 
How to Eat at Kiin

... so I wasn't sure how the flat plates in front of each of us could be used in divvying up a soup, so we ended just spooning from the same bowl, hoping all that heat and spice were somewhat antibacterial.  The rice we ordered didn't arrive 'til a bit later, too, which helped absorb both  the broth and some of the mounting heat: few dishes here are without punch.  Speaking of absorption, I figured out a way to un-fry food when an enormous bowl of braised chicken-leg curry noodles arrived crowned with a tangled mass of crispy fried noodles atop.  Given enough time in the gravy-like broth, the fried noodles achieved almost the same consistency as the boiled ones underneath, although (of course) adding some of their inherent richness to thicken the broth into a substantial sauce: little of the food at Kiin is rabbity fare, although the brightness,  balance and heat of everything belies some of its caloric impact.  

A good example of the brightness comes in the form of a corn salad, who's fishy funk was initially obscured with tang and spice.  Interspersing bites with other richer dishes, however, unearthed a the bracing smack of dried shrimp, so best consume this refreshing salad before the heat of most other dishes expose your palate to its nuances best left more subtle.   Supple salted eggs, hard-boiled, perch atop and help dissipate the flavors; the crunchy long beans and bulbous cherry tomatoes are left raw for the same reasons.   I feel like this is a good example of "authentic" Thai flavors: they can be an assault left to their own devices, but in convergence with all partnering elements, result in some tantalizing
 combinations.  Less thrilling may have been an offering from the Vegetarian section, tasty a plate of vegs though they were.  Griddled pucks of tofu fortified a sautee of asparagus and shiitakes, not much different than what you might find in any Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese/Pan-Asian joint, but in 
no way offensive.   Our next dish did offer up a bit of an insult- or at least to my taste, those lovely clusters of what turned out to be pickled peppercorns are definitely garnish and not palatable.  Spicy, pickly, fishy and bitter- and really, just plain stinky-  they were only visually appealing: what the menu qualifies as "unique fragrance" might originate from these funky bunches, and they should be left 
to the periphery along with the fibrous kaffir lime leaves .  The rest of the Pad Chaa, on the other hand, was highly edible, aggressively spiced with fiery chilis and garlic, although I think I would've preferred the seedy orbs of eggplant sauteed along with the fat shrimp and tender cylinders of squid,  instead of raw or nearly raw as they seemed to be.  


Kiin offers a smattering of dessert options as well,  but we couldn't finish what we had ordered as it were, so finished things off sharing a pot of green tea,  served in rough clay mugs with no handles, allowing your hands to appreciate the warm, rough texture of the rustic clay.  It feels simultaneously invigorating and soothing, warm and authentic and sort of Zen, which is much the sentiment I garnered from Kiin itself.  







36 E.8th Street (Between University Place & Broadway)
Tel. 212.529.2363



Saturday, February 14, 2015

DIRTY FRENCH

I thought Dirty French was going to be a francophilic Carbone, and to that end, I have to admit to a scintilla of disappointment.  A new addition to Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi's  unstoppable Major Food Group, Dirty French is a solid restaurant: it has all the fundamentals for staying power, especially benefitting from its location within the Ludlow Hotel.  In fact, I don't know who will benefit more... perhaps actually, the hotel.  But  it's just not as theatrical (nor as "dirty") as I anticipated it to be.
 The snazzy, cheeky hot pink neon signage at the door hinted in the direction of my expectations, and the room, dark and swanky, reinforced an air of edge and grit.  Even a row of disturbing, drippy-eyed smoking clowns gave an impression of drama.  But throughout the evening, the restaurant takes on a much more normal vibe- and despite price points that rival Carbone's, the "show" part of dinner-and-a-show that makes Carbone so exceptional does not seem to manifest itself at Dirty French.

The bread course, however, could qualify as a show in itself.  It was easily the most memorable and exciting component of the meal- arriving on its own silver pedestal, sided with a creamy whipped cow's milk cheese sprinkled with fresh herbs.  The flatbread was piping hot, chewy and pliant, salty and buttery.  These were the attributes I was expecting from Dirty French across the board- sort of classy and slutty at the same time.  Like the tagline for the Cosmopolitan Hotel: just the right amount of wrong.  It felt a little taboo to eat it.. it was little too rich, too many carbs, and just too delicious to keep your teeth out of.

From that point on, the restaurant became a more expected, typical eatery.  The prices are not listed on the website, which almost always implies steep tags.  If I recall correctly, they were marked on the stiff, cardboard menus, however, and in any case, they mirror the prices at Carbone, only at Carbone the portions are Olympic, and the atmosphere much more entertaining.  That said, we were sitting next to an annoyingly shrill pair of ladies that couldn't have been more distracting and shrieky.  It definitely didn't help our experience.  But here, you're paying simply for the cuisine (and a bumpin' 80'd soundtrack), which is admittedly solid, but I think somewhat unjustified.  That said, there is a bit of pomp: oysters are presented ceremoniously, with intricate detail of their provenance and flavor profiles.  Meaty dishes abound, classics like boudin and terrine and carpaccio fortify the h'ors d'oeuvres, all lovingly tweaked into modernity.  A Roquefort salad focused on flavorful roasted beets instead of the cheese itself, which punched up the sweet vegetable alongside crisp triangles of Asian pear and crunchy candied cashews.  Not so divergent from any typical
 beets/cheese/nuts salad we might have seen before, but the flavors were alive and robust, and at least it wasn't chevre and walnuts.  If anything, the food here might be a little too flavorful, bordering on overwhelming . Perhaps that accounts for the portion size as well: one could not eat too, too much of most plates.



For entrees there are two shareable options of chicken and cote de boeuf, and then a selection of rotisserie proteins, from which we tried the lamb saddle.   Taking the French affinity for Moroccan spices, the lamb is rubbed in cumin, then served over firm, toothsome slices of potato, enriched with lamby juices and crisp of edge.   From the
  Poissons, I chose the Provencale, which were four seared Vadouvan-spiced scallops (in English) paired with artichauts (in French).  I couldn't quite get why some terms were Frenchified, and others left en anglais: had I chosen, I would used the lovely French term of Coquilles St. Jacques rather than scallops, but then again, the whole dish was titled Provencale, which to me denotes a preparation with tomatoes and garlic, sometimes olives, none of which appeared in the dish, so what do I know.  The scallops were fresh and well-prepared, although I could've done with less of the abundant flurry of whatever flavorless herb
 was amply strewn atop.  Those artichauts, however, were earthy and tender, a fine counterpart for the curry-esque spice.  And while the scallops had those artichokes, the lamb had but potatoes, so some vegetable Accompagnements were in order.  I needed to try the mushrooms if only but to compare them to Carbone's memorably marvelous ones, and these were great... but not as great.  Or maybe I was just not enjoying myself to same extent that I did there, and the food was reflecting that.  How I'd love to compare both mushrooms side by side.. in any case it would be a win-win, because I know Carbone's were exceptional, and these were delicious, too.  Less impressive were the Haricots Asiatique, which our waiter recommended.  They were unevenly cooked, with most a little on the raw
 side, which made their excessive dressing more pronounced.   I wish I would've gone with my intial inclination, a parsleyed cabbage braise, that sounded both delicious and certainly less commonplace.









Even with the lack of fireworks through the course of the meal, we wanted to give the desserts a try, even though at this point I was disappointingly underwhelmed.  Serves me right for going in with such elevated, Carbone-esque, expectations.  Maybe I just like Mario's cooking better than Rich's, who is apparently the toque in charge here.  So we tried the Tarte, which is basically a dense bar cookie of a slice of lemon meringue pie.  It's meringue was sweet and pillowy, by far the best part of the sweet.  The curd was pleasantly sweet with a zippy tart bite, but it was a little gummy and dense atop a crust requiring a bit too much muscle to break.



In the end, Dirty French exhibits a swanky atmosphere and deft service that I might rave about in any other restaurant.  It's only that Major Food Group has set their own bar so very, very high, and the only thing that rivals that elevation here are the prices.   If Dirty French really is supposed to be an francophilic Carbone, les francaises have some catching up to do.




 180 Ludlow St, LES
212-254-3000





Tuesday, February 10, 2015

ESCA

Nothing I could write here will be of surprise to anybody who knows anything about New York's dining scene.  Esca has remained a solid, reliable, iconic destination for a decade and a half.    Its pedigreed owners, the Batali-Batianich clan, must be as proud of Esca as any of its restaurants, as Chef Dave Pasternack continues the impeccable quality and responsible stewardship of the ocean's bounty like no other.  As The New York Times so eloquently stated,
“HE’S AN HONEST-TO-GOD FISHERMAN, IN LOVE WITH THE OCEAN, AND ESCA IS HIS ONGOING ODE TO IT”.   

Service is effortlessly suave, the room just the same.  A subdued elegance pervades- even the silverware is comfortable in hand.  Keeping it in the family, I chose a full-bodied Bastianich friuliano from the expansive tome of a wine list, which held up well with all the dishes we tried.  The menu options change substantially on a daily basis, due to seasonality, sustainability and fishmermen's luck, but it is vast enough that even picky eaters will easily find treasures.  



In fact, we were welcomed with a little amuse-bouche crostino, topped with creamy slurry of garlicky white beans- a hearty, flavorful mouthful, with nary a morsel from the sea at all.   That said, the focus is fish, and their menu opens with a expertly curated array of oysters and crudo, from which we chose a precious white salmon, naked but for a drizzle of heady olive oil and a solitary pink peppercorns.  A masterpiece of simplicity.  For my own part, however, I was lured back to land by the Verdure Miste, not your typical array of grilled veg, but a lusty compilation of meltingly, devastatingly
 tender organic carrots and beets, sunchokes and artichokes, potatoes and turnip, each more delicious than the next.  They were robustly salty, slathered with an unctuous sheep's milk ricotta and a tangle of bitter greens atop.   Strangely, the "salad" was more decadent and substantial on the palate than the fish, but each sang their own unique songs of  luxury.  
 



Entrees continued on the same successful path.   Our empties were dextrously whisked away and warm plates of more glorious delicacies from the sea arrived.  I don't mean that dismissively: there is a simultaneous simplicity and depth to the cooking at Esca.  A pristine filet  of flaky, snowy cod, its skin-side sauteed to a thin crisp of gold, like how a tiny silver of burgeoning crescent illumination coddles the soft, glowy whole of the moon.   It came with a pile of tender braised sunchokes, which lose some of their nuttiness in such thorough cooking, but take on a distinct sweetness and uncommon softness.  It was balanced by an engaging agro-dolce, which also enhanced the gentle sweetness of the cod.  Two primary components turned into a combination much greater than the sum of their 
parts.  Sgombro (Spanish mackerel) achieved a meaty firmness seared on the grill, its signature fishiness countered with a savory mix of earthy wild mushrooms and leeks.  Our only misstep may have been following our server's recommendation of a side dish of roasted broccoli instead of a less common option of braised artichokes... the broccoli was (again) over-cooked to edge of mushiness: perfectly fine, in and of itself, but somewhat repetitive after its two vegetable predecessors, and also, broccoli
 is significantly more common than artichokes on local menus... as well as in my own kitchen, so it seemed less special than the 'chokes.

In the end, we skipped dessert: although the options were all estimable, I'm sure.  Exemplary  renditions of traditional Italian desserts, although I actually don't mind going a little chi-chi on the sweet end of things, which is not at all what Esca is about.  Thus, a classic tiramisu, sheep's milk cheesecake, a chocolate-hazelnut torte- I'm sure all were exquisite sweets.  They did, in fact, look quite tempting as they made their way to other tables.   Actually, I felt a little loss after we decided against them, but then, fully sated by ever other aspect of our meal, that feeling evaporated quickly.  To that end, it's hard to leave Esca without feeling anything but completely and utterly satisfied.






402 W 43RD STREET, 
Tel: 212 564 7272