Esca

Esca

In the mood for a something contemporary and delicious while grabbing a quick glass of wine with your friends? You can’t do better than Esca, which offers a variety of indoor seating options (lively bar, private balcony and panorama window views) along with – in warmer weather – outdoor café tables to watch what’s going by on Main Street even while grazing on a multiplicity of beautiful piccoli piatti, or small plates.

Esca claims a full “traditional” Italian menu, but I confess to never moving past the piatti, which present a varied, delicious and tempting fare for practically every mood. Friends that I bring here fully agree: Esca’s small plates cannot be beat for flavor or creativity.  Carpaccio

No need to break your budget in choosing a wine either because the house offerings at Esca are thoughtfully selected. I have never been disappointed with either the red or the white (the merlot is preferable to the cabernet sauvignon) and find the wait staff’s suggestions for buying up on the wine well-informed for specific dishes. Esca’s authentic Italian café-approach only enhances whatever red or white you might choose. A full menu is available online athttp://escact.com/ and I list some special favorites of my friends and mine here… 

Although Esca officially bills itself as a wine bar, don’t hesitate – particularly if you’ve had one of those weeks – to go with a traditional martini or Manhattan. It will arrive at your table beautifully and traditionally prepared. The size will be generous. 

Carpaccio Di Manzi. Like Sirens, razor thin stretches of raw beef with preserved lemon, black truffles, baby arugula and capers keep me from moving to other culinary opportunities despite numerous visits to Esca. This dish, with its always-fresh raw beef and harmoniously imaginative accents is arguably among the top three Carpaccio options in all of Connecticut. (Bar Bouchee in Madison and Bravo, Bravo in Mystic would be the other two.)  Calamari Fritti

Calamari Fritti. A dusting of cornmeal and pickled hot peppers so effectively spotlight curls of new baby squid that a companion who never ate calamari before now needs reminding that we are sharing! Fritti are the perfect complement to any piccoli piatti sampling feast. Ask for the spicy marinara dip along with the aioli and chipotle sauces that come with the plate.

Steamed Artichoke. There it sits, on the plate. An oh-so-welcome sight so rarely found while dining out. One artichoke. Steamed. Basking in its stolid singularity. A real strength of Esca is the chef’s openness to adjust a plate for dietary restrictions or preference. The artichoke is no exception. Although it comes in an anchovy butter and garlic sauce, a request to replace the butter with olive oil is readily accommodated.

Esca Chop SaladEsca Chop Salad. If you are thinking that your average chop salad doesn’t come with duck confit, apples, dried cherries and walnuts, then you are beginning to understand what sets Esca apart. Lots of greens and some carrot and red onion shavings will be accompanied with gorgonzola if you so choose.

SPECIAL NOTE… 

The rest of the menu. The raw bar, the tuna tartare and the foie gras with fruit glaze and seared pork belly are equally worthy of sampling.  You can go back to Esca again and again and still agonize whether you want the martini or the wine, the tartare or the carpaccio. I still have not gotten to the charcuterie board with its artisan cured meats, cayenne pecans and grilled baguette. So many piatti … so little time. Esca never disappoints.

Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar, 437 Main Street, Middletown, CT  (860) 316-2552
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