Had dinner at Esca on Saturday night and it was stunning. It's a simple looking place, with simply prepared food, but the quality of ingredients and attention to detail were outstanding.
For free: The bread, from Royal Crown, I'd guess, was top notch and served sans butter or oil, like in Italy. A big bowl of black olives garnished with lemon peel.
Beverage front: Lovely wine list with reasonable prices and four or so wines you could order by the "quartino," about 2 glasses, nice if you're drinking alone. My companion's iced tea came with a small carafe of simple syrup, the better to dissolve.
My pasta, a spaghetti alla chitarra with crab meat and sea urchin, was truly sublime. Sea urchin, "ricci" is seen on menus in Italy, but rarely on Italian restaurant menus in New York. One of the best pastas I've ever had in New York.
For a secondo, I had a whole pompano roasted with caper berries and olives. Again, wonderful. There's a lot of whole fish going on at Esca, and sometimes it seems like half the floor staff is engaged in filleting. (One of the most popular entrees seemed to be a whole branzino roasted in a salt crust. This for two people. Esca has a special wooden tool they use for knocking the cooked salt off the fish.)
My companion started with a green salad (I've no idea why) and then had shrimp ravioli in nettle butter and topped with shredded sorrel. Wonderfully conceived and executed.
Dessert: we split a nectarine berry tart which was good but not great. But for coffee I ordered a Neapolitan moka which was a delightful touch: more satisfying than an American coffee, but a little longer-lived than an espresso.
The bill, with tip and tax, came to about $140. Not cheap, but to my mind well worth it. Hey, it's cheaper than Estiatorio Milos.