EscaMay 31, 2007
402 W 43rd St
New York, NY 10036, USA
This review took a bit of time to write if for no other reason that I was reflecting about the place of Montréal restaurants on the North American map and some of the comments the Maitre D’ said while at Esca.
We arrived for our lunch at the restaurant a bit in advance and waited a bit for our other companions to join us, the latter would prove fruitless as they didn’t show up. Soon after we were greeted in the almost empty restaurant and invited to leave our touristy things at the coat check (I know it sounds weird to mention that but you’ll understand later on.)
The Maitre D’ was beyond nice, having recognized our accents and my name on the reservation, he started conversing about all things Montréal. I guess he wasn’t that busy at the beginning of the shift and was genuinely loving our lovely city and was singing its praises, and no it didn’t look fake. Speaking of dining in Montréal, he was saying that Toqué! and La Chronique were as good as anything you’d find in New York. I was a bit skeptic and said, I am sure the -really- high end restaurants like Jean-Georges, Daniel or Per Se had to be of a higher quality. He insisted and said that he worked both under Mr Vongerichten and Mr Boulud and the two Montréal establishments ranked high up there according to him.
I have never been to Daniel or Jean-Georges, nor have I been to La Chronique (I am going there next week actually.) Although our friend might have been hyperbolic a bit, it somewhat justifies my earliest beef about Restaurant Magazine’s top 100.
After perusing the menu, I selected the crudo as appetizer and shad’s roe as main course, my companions going for a fish soup and grilled mahi-mahi and roasted chicken. The wine was bit more of a problem, after asking our server to recommend a quarter bottle, he presented me and my drinking partner with a couple of glasses of two wines to taste and choose. This nice touch made it easier to choose a wine that would fit both of our meals. What’s more the tasting serving wasn’t small so it permitted both of us to taste and give a proper acknowledgment.
We were presented with a cooked tuna salad on bruscetta as amuse-bouche, and it was an adequate freebie. After the passage of an awesome bread basket, the crudo came up. Three raw fishes, I really can’t remember what was what, I know there was red snapper in there, with different dressing, one with volcanic salt and olive oil, one with lemon juice volcanic salt and olive oil and the last with a bean paste, the salt and oil. The presentation, in a single, three bowled, plate, resting on crushed ice, the whole thing looked awesome. The fish was -very- fresh and all three were very subtle in flavour so the whole dish wasn’t overwhelming but very solid. My companion with the supa was a little more punch as he said it was the best fish soup he ever tasted, and the man knows his fish, he is Greek after all.
As the restaurant got busier and busier, the service kept being deadly efficient, not stuffy and of continuing excellence. Soon, the main courses came up and I was greeted by something I had never eaten: Shad roe. I very often try new things in restaurants and this time I had no idea what to expect or how shad roe is cooked, or not. Well the plate arrived and was greeted with a fried lump of “something” and a few wilted vegetables. Upon researching the dish I realized that this was a fairly standard way of presenting it, and I believe it was very well done. The taste was subtle and the seasoning was perfect. It reminded me of an animal’s nasty bits, without the hard aftertaste, that I love, that something like liver gives you. I loved my shad roe but I think I would appreciate it more the next time.
Afer finishing my meal, I realized that I didn’t have a ticket for the coat check, as one of my companion had. Slowly walking to the counter the lady behind the desk smiled and picked up my things and gave them to me. This is a good example of the nice little touches and the incredible service we got at Esca, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the restaurant. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the cooking, it was solid but not incredible. None the less, I had one of my best experience in a restaurant. I would recommend Esca is about half a second.