Went to Cesca for dinner Saturday night with a party of 5, with two more joining for coffee (I know that late arrivals can be annoying for restaurants, but they were very nice about this). Arrived on time for our 10:30 reservation and were asked to wait at the bar until our entire party arrived. This would have been fine except a) there was no room at the crowded bar and b) 4 out of the 5 of us were there. The host who told us this seemed a little out of it (there was a slight but noticeable time lag between our questions and his answers) so we just agreed. We were in the midst of ordering cocktails when our 5th arrived, and we were seated. I will say that the hostess (a different person) and the bartender handled the drink/check transfer quite smoothly. (I find that this can sometimes be an awkward situation, with one person holding the rest of the party up while trying to transfer/settle the bill. The staff at Cesca, however, handled it very professionally.) On the way to the table, we passed Tom Valenti himself in the open area of the kitchen. When we expressed our star-struck admiration (hey, some people follow rock stars, I adore chefs) the hostess said that she would try to get him to come by. He never did, but then again it was quite late on Saturday night and I suppose he had his own life to attend to.
Had a round of cocktails while we perused the menu. As it was late on a busy Saturday night, they were out of many items, which is understandable but disappointing. Ordered a first round for the table. We had:
Roasted oysters: Simply delicious. Served with some sort of creamy sauce and a bit of pancetta, this was a favorite. Four to an order, which was perfect as one of our party is allergic to shellfish (his loss, believe me).
Parmesan fritters: Fried goodness. Parmesan, bits of ham, and cayenne pepper for a little kick to these great little fritters. Not at all healthy, but when its this good
Risotto balls with mushrooms: Also good, though not as tasty as the fritters.
Beef Carpaccio: An excellent if somewhat standard version of the dish.
Some sort of mushroom dish with polenta: OK, nice creamy texture but not really that exciting.
We then opened a bottle of white wine (dont remember what it was, nothing too exceptional) and ordered two pastas to share for the table.
Gnocchi with duck: The duck was very good, but I found the sauce a little cloying. Others at the table liked it though.
Riso with Squab: The squab itself was one of the highlights of the evening, though I would rate the riso itself just good.
We then ordered an excellent Barolo (so good that one companion remarked that he would be happy to just eat the wine. I offered to help him with his food ) for the mains. Swordfish was very good, though not very exciting. It was served on a delicious eggplant (?) ragout. Tuna was well done, though not really different than anywhere else. But still very good. The lamb was great and the lamb sausage that comes with it was truly amazing. Bursting with luscious flavor, I had a difficult time trying to reconcile my altruistic tendencies (wanting to share this incredible taste with the rest of my friends) and gluttony (stay way its mine!).
Stuffed past the point of no return at this point, we nonetheless had a glass of Muscato dasti each (they also have quite a selection of amaris, which are available by the tasting), along with two desserts. The men at our table seemed to really like the pear tart, but we women (having stopped counting calories before the first course) devoured the tiramisu parfait.
Our server was a little reluctant at first (we gave him something of a hard time about them being out of so many things, we are all under the age of 25, it was late) but warmed up quickly. A few mistakes that are to be expected that late at night (our knives were not replaced between the first course and the pastas) but overall knowledgeable and friendly.
The décor is warm and rustic, banquettes are comfortable. Crowd had an unusually high representation of bad face lifts and blatantly leering men, but was otherwise OK.
Dinner came to $430 for 5 (5 cocktails, 5 starters, 2 pastas, 5 entrees, 2 coffees, 2 bottles of wine, 2 desserts, 5 Muscatos) after taxes but before tip which was more than reasonable for the high quality of food.
All in all, an excellent, very enjoyable experience, even worth the trip to the Upper West Side :-)
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