I came across that quote on Sunday while flipping through “The Young Man & The Sea,” chef David Pasternack’s cookbook and ode to Esca, his Southern Italian seafood restaurant in Manhattan’s theater district.
So it goes that I was fortunate enough to review Esca in my Bloomberg News column back in January, awarding 2.5 stars to the excellent pastas and composed fish dishes (the salt-baked branzino is like eating a maritime marshmallow).
My only real criticism, alas, was of the restaurant’s crudi — the raw fish preparations. As I explained in my review, the “Italian sashimi” was so consistently overchilled that the flavors were numbed into submission, and the texture of the fish, in certain cases, became mealy due to the cold. In fact, Esca’s crudi are often served over ice, which incorrectly causes them to get colder, not warmer, as you enjoy them.
When I first published the review, part of me wondered whether this was all intentional. Some diners associate intense cold with freshness, especially when dealing with something like raw seafood, which they might not not used to eating. Back in the fall of 2001, I worked at a restaurant in Georgetown where the beef carpaccio was pre-sliced and stored in a walk in cooler at all times until was ordered. The result was a dish that was cold, that was awful, and that no one really ordered.
I don’t know what crudo sales are like at Esca, but I bet diners would be happier if things were a little warmer with the raw fish, helping to bring out the all the subtle flavors. And after seeing “the cold quote” in Pasternack’s cookbook (which he co-wrote with Ed Levine), I realized that the icy raw salmon is an execution issue, rather than something that Esca purposely wants to serve (thank goodness).
So what say you world? Have you encountered similar problems with seafood temperatures at Esca or elsewhere? Let me know! And keep in mind that Esca is still a pretty badass restaurant, serving what is surely the city’s best linguine with clam sauce. You’ll eat well, my friends.