I posted a few days ago for recommendations of where to eat in NYC while here attending a conference. While I have decided that I will go to craftbar for the big event, I had enough people also advising that I try Lupa (which I have already been to, and loved) that I thought I would come in a bit early and have lunch at another of Mario Batali's places, Babbo. Unfortunately, after slogging through the rain, with my suitcase, from Penn Station, I found that Babbo only serves dinner (ugh!), so I used my proximity to Murray's Cheeseshop as an opportunity to buy some unusual cheeses and headed back uptown to Esca, Mario's fish emporium.
Arriving at 11:35 I found the place shut, but the maitre d' saw me and told me that he'd open in 5-10 minutes. Incredibly, I found myself actually standing in the rain (under the awning) waiting for the doors to open, and was eventually joined by several other diners. Finally, at 11:50, they opened up, being sure to point out that they were opening 10 minutes early on our behalf. Fine.
Having no reservation, I was offered a seat at the bar, where Victor, the bartender, would take good care of me. Indeed, he made me forget entirely about my frustration at waiting outside in the rain for 15 minutes. He does a great job of making you feel welcome, and made me think that the amuse gueule was made just for me (even though every single diner got the same thing--a mackerel and cannelini bean bruschetta, very tasty).
Victor told me about the specials, and I figured I would let him make all the selections for me, based on my being rather hungry and wanting to maximize my "Esca experience". So I started with the crudo of three tastes (halibut belly, ivory salmon and Hawaiian opaca (sic) with various toppings of olive oil, salts, golden beets, etc), which was outstanding, followed by the special pasta of tagliatelle with Maine shrimp and chervil, and then Orata fish prepared very simply, all washed down by a Nosiola wine and topped off with their Affogato dessert (caramel ice cream with candied walnuts doused in espresso and walnut liqueur, with the melted goop drunk down with a straw at the end). All of it was fantastic, and though it was a bit pricey ($100 with tip) I imagine it was largely worth it.
I noted that someone else wrote about the poor espresso at Esca; I have to concur, since I was surprised that the espresso for the Affogato was not covered with crema and was overall somewhat wan, though I did not drink it by itself.