Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Had Me at "Urchin"

Had dinner at Esca last night.  Don't know why it hadn't been on my radar.  Probably because my radar typically doesn't pick up objects in midtown -- especially those in the Theater District.  And I likely wouldn't have been enthusiastic about going, even with its Mario Batali pedigree, had Frank Bruni not given it a nod in his parting Diner's Journal entry.

The meal as a whole didn't particularly impress, but one dish stood out as perhaps the tastiest I've had in a very long while: house made guitar cut spaghetti with sea urchin and crabmeat.

I'd taken a quick glance at the menu before going, and this dish caught my attention right away.  Our very dutiful waiter highlighted it as he went over the menu, and I could sense my eyes growing bigger as he described how it's prepared.  When the dish arrived, I had no doubt that the first bite would bring an overwhelming sense of awe.  The spaghetti strands looked quite fat, as if someone had swapped out the standard extruder with a super-chunky one.  And the sauce looked to be a sticky goo of melted sea urchin butter sprinkled generously with bits of sea urchin and crabmeat.  As I took my first bite, I marveled at the springiness of the spaghetti -- perfectly al dente, making my teeth do just the right amount of work.  And that sauce ... sticky goo never tasted so sublime.  My only disappointment with the dish was having to share it.

Unfortunately, the remaining portions of the dinner were quite forgettable.  The halibut belly crudo had an interesting texture, but it was a bit too salty for my taste.  The razor clam crudo would've been much more pleasing had the clams not been sliced into such tiny pieces that the best part of eating clams -- the enjoyment of their chewy consistency -- was rendered unattainable.  The grilled octopus was pleasing, but there wasn't enough of it to make a meaningful impression.  And the thresher shark was fun to try, but not so fun that I'd order it again.  (Strange how it looked like grilled pork but tasted like steamed pork.)

But none of those distractions and detractions much matter.  I'd go back just to order the spaghetti twice: once as an appetizer, and again as an entree.