Thursday, June 11, 2009

Esca: worth getting a babysitter


It's official: being a grown-up is in.

Esca, the long-awaited wine bar at the corner of Washington & Main, ushers in a new level of sophisticated dining in Middletown.

At a family & friends opening party on Wednesday night, the new restaurant was packed with well-wishers who clustered around the bar or found a table and ordered dinner. I tried the sea salt crusted free-range chicken, which was terrific. I also heard raves about the sea bass and an interesting appetizer of grilled calamari and citrusy red cabbage.

Esca lives up to the "wine bar" label, with 199 choices and a special kind of breathable wine glass from Germany that will attract oenophiles from around the region. The lively atmosphere -- helped along at the opening party by the musical stylings of Tony Reali (we joined in on My Way) -- was especially enjoyable from our perch on the mezzanine. But we also table-hopped to sit with friends near the Main Street windows, and in the long banquettes. One couple noted that they got a babysitter so they could savor the evening at their table-for-two. And a group of at least a dozen sat family-style at a long table of their own. There's lots of variety here, and it's all good.

The restaurant opens to the general public on Thursday, but locals know to let a new kitchen find its feet before they rush in. Give Elisa Bramato and her restaurant some time to settle in. Esca looks to be worth the wait.

26 comments:

Eye M said...

It was very nice evening...worth staying up past my bedtime. Congratulations to Esca.

Dana said...

cannot wait to try esca`s heard many wonderful things about it starting from the decor to the amasing menu and of course the extensive wine list

John & Donna R said...

The food was delicious and the atmosphere impeccable. Everything about Esca is 1st class from the delicious food, the creative decor including the quality and details of the workmanship, the dinnerware and serve ware, incredible bar and the most comfortable dining chairs. Its about time Middletown has a real 1st class restaurant with good food, and classy atmosphere. We are looking forward to many more visits to Esca.

Anonymous said...

Everyone should check out Esca...the wine list is absolutely amazing and there are many delicious menu items it was hard to pick one when I went last night! I recommend this place to everyone!

outback steak person said...

We were that big group in the corner and we all had great time.

JC said...

I tried Esca for lunch. The decor is very elegant yet not too stiff. Middletown has been in need of a good Italian restaurant for ever. I ordered the house made fettuccine with lobster and crab. Overall I was pleased however I do have some suggestions:
For a lunch menu price of $22 it could have contained a bit more seafood. I appreciated the light cream sauce however it needed some flavor which I got after I asked for grated cheese (something that should always be offered).
I also asked my waiter what he thought of the dish prior to ordering it and he had never seen it before. I advise the owners to be certain the staff has tried the entrees and be able to speak to it.
I know it is an Italian restaurant (and being Italian I can appreciate that) however the music needed a little updating. Older style Italian music should be limited and inter-played with European jazz beats as well. After all, it is a wine bar too.
The staff was on average friendly.
I will probably give them another try but not right away. I understand some comments hinting the restaurant needs time to get settled however I have visited many establishments in their infancy and the staff should always be prepared to answer questions about the food. Here's hoping to improvement and future success.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. Yes, I agree that the staff should taste the food and know more about it--especially with entrees upwards of $22. While I may try the restaurant for a special occasion, $22 for lunch is out of my budget.

Anonymous said...

I had an excellent lunch the other day for $10. It was the vine ripe tomato pizza- delicious! There were many options for a reasonable lunch price as well as a few entrees if you were interested that were $20+. Overall great lunch experience - fast, friendly service and great food that allowed me to return to work on time!! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

To JC, I dined at Esca last Saturday night and also had the Lobster and Crab Fett. Are you sure you didn't order off the dinner menu? I paid $22 and had a healthy portion of crustaceans amongst my pasta. By the way my wife and I had a wonderful time and I would like to suggest the lumache.

Anonymous said...

A group of eight of us were very excited to visit Esca about two weeks ago. We were looking forward to a great meal with good friends. Most of us being wine fanatics we were anticipating order a few bottles. We made reservations for 8:00 and unfortunately our server did not greet us until 8:45. We ordered a few bottles of wine and finished them before she came back at 9:15 to take our order and bring water and bread which we had to ask for. Our meals finally arrived two at a time in 5-10 minute increments in between. One meal order was misplaced while others soups were cold and steak overcooked. We bit our tongues up until this point but since our server was non existant most of the night we decided to call the manager over. She apologized profusly and said she would "take care of our entrees for the inconvenience". Another manager came over and offered us dessert. We refused but she insisted. When the check came they did not comp our meals but the wine and the dessert that we did not want in the first place. Needless to say the atmosphere was beautiful and the wine delicious. However the service was terrible (2.5 hours for dinner)and the management dishonest. Hopefully they can work out the details of being a new restaurant because it really was a disappointing evening.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 8:53:

Your group ordered "a few bottles of wine", which I'm assuming is three or four, and finished them off in 30 minutes on empty stomachs?

nicole said...

i've been to esca many times and have a blast!!! the food & cocktails & wine are to die for!!! if thats all good what else can you ask for!!! they were very nice also!!

Anonymous said...

I would have to say Esca Wine Bar is the best Italian Restaurant in Middletown. It is a relaxing beautiful environment which allows you to feel like you are not even in Middletown. The Wine list is incredible and the entrees are to die for. I recommend ending the night with a piece of homemade chocolate latte cheesecake. :) The only suggestion I could make was making sure you portion sizes arent too small to what we are paying for such as the lobster and crab fettucini. Other than that I will be dining there again. It is a great place to hold large parties also.

Anonymous said...

If you want to feel like you are not even in Middletown then why are you here ? I will give you the benefit of the doubt that what you meant to say was that you felt Esca swept you away to another time and place; however, as it is written, its kind of insulting.

Anonymous said...

Waiter told us that the Executive Chef walked out! Not a good sign for a new restaurant!

Anonymous said...

That last comment is very false! We know the Chef personally and he is doing such a great job at Esca! We love it there! Keep up the good work :)

Anonymous said...

Sitting outside I got a great smell of car exhaust and nasty smog. Tables are too close to the road! My martini had barely. Any liquor in it to make it even worse!

Anonymous said...

I agree, sitting outside is not enjoyable. It's a bad location, a very busy intersection. I went on a saturday afternoon and couldn't hear myself talking over the motorcycles. The food was not impressive either.

Anonymous said...

Drinks are very weak for the price that is being charged for them, with so many places to get a manhattan at in middletown I hope their food will keep them in business. Went for dinner once and the wait was over an hour and a half for 2 entrees. Food was good.

Anonymous said...

I have given Esca a few chances since it seems to have the right idea, but it never comes through. The food is inconsistant, the service is slow, and the noise level is too loud. The two positives are the drinks and decor. If you are looking for a quality experience overall, try another restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but my husband and I went to Esca on Friday night and it was just not good. The place is beautiful and the service was fine, but the food was inedible. I had the spinach gnocchi with roasted vegetables and I swear, the gnocchi had been grilled. They even tasted of steak rub. I barely ate it and they did comp the entree. What worried me was that I didn't actually complain, the servers just seemed to expect something was wrong. On top of that, we had the flatbread appetizer which was a) thick focaccia, not flatbread, and b) burned. Our drinks were also terrible, though we didn't order wine - I'm hopeful the wine list is better than the cocktails, since it's their specialty. Overall, I would give it one more chance due to atmosphere and service, but I think they need a new chef. I have to assume that on a Friday night, they had their A team in the kitchen...but it was C (maybe D) team quality.

Anonymous said...

the restaurant is very good but we felt like we were on the titanic with the combo playing so loud that it ruined the time. ask first if there is music and if you want to talk make sure you are seated away from the madness. sue and friends

Anonymous said...

I don't know if they've changed cooks since the last time all of you were there, but i'd give this place 5 stars. Everything was excellent! The special was a duck confe over toast with a reduced cream and fau gras that was to die for.

tina said...

I have been to Esca quite a few times since it opened and the food and service has been wonderful. The swordfish wrapped in proscuitto is to die for. Also the blackberry mojito was pretty tasty too. I have gone back and continue to and have also told other people about it.

Anonymous said...

I too had dinner at Esca. The decor is beautiful. We were seated in a booth with another couple. The waiter couldn't answer a simple question as to ingredients in one of the entrees.
Then the music started and that was the end of conversation at our table. (it isn't soft music )
The dinners were "so-so" nothing
memorable to go back for. Swordfish was blah. Bass was
bland. Seafood pasta was very heavy. The duck entree was tasty.
When my coffee arrived it was cold.
The waiter nicely asked me why I
didn't drink it - when told he simply took the cup away- no offer to replace it.
Sorry- the decor is beautiful but
nothing "TO DIE FOR"

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Nothing to die for. Lamps on ceiling look like the home depot special for 19.99. Drinks are over priced for amount of alcohol put in them. I've been twice and I can tell they must have a new chef. Saw waiters scarfing down bread in kitchen and eating. Not very sanitary!