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Esca, New York City, New York

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402 W. 43rd Street
Midtown West
New York City , New York
Tel: 212 564 7272
view web site ›'s insider take:

You might not expect an austere-looking fish place near the Port Authority Bus Terminal to be a hot table for six years running, but Esca—the name means "bait"—is still reeling in the foodies. Its success has as much to do with its big-name backers (Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) as it does with its chef/owner: David Pasternack grew up fishing on Long Island and still catches much of what he cooks up in the kitchen—if it's cooked at all. His specialty is crudo, best described as the Italian love child of sushi and ceviche: bite-size pieces of raw big-eye tuna with unfiltered olive oil and chives, say, or sweet Nantucket bay scallops with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and chervil. From there, things get progressively hotter, both in temperature and kick. Our favorites include the grilled octopus with preserved lemon and corona beans; spaghetti with lobster, chilis, and mint; and the day's catch, grilled and served with salsa verde. The all-Italian wine list promotes lesser-known varietals, but the sommelier is as approachable as you'd expect from a branch of the populist Batali empire.

Esca is our top choice for pre- and post-theater dining, but if it's booked solid (call up to a month in advance), avoid Restaurant Row, the block of W. 46th St. between Eighth and Ninth avenues, lined with brownstones and mediocre food. Head slightly farther afield instead: ViceVersa has interesting but solid pasta (325 W. 51st St., 212-399-9291;; Sushi Zen flies in fish daily from Japan (108 W. 44th St., 212-302-0707;; and the ethnic joints on Ninth Avenue—Thai, Puerto Rican, Greek, you name it—are cheerful, reliable, and cheap.

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