Classic Tables: Esca

Esca is still a catch for upscale seafood

The soft-spoken sleeper of the Mario Batali-Joe Bastianich empire, Esca is often passed over for its flashier downtown siblings. But after eight strong years under chef Dave Pasternack, it remains New York's top destination for ultra-fresh, Italian-inspired seafood. 

Go for a late weekday lunch, when power brokers and theater-going tourists have left. Sit on the patio if you don't mind the Ninth Avenue noise; otherwise, the airy dining room is serenely quiet and Pasternack might stop by to share his Long Island fishing tales (if you're lucky, his latest catch will be the day's special).

The perfect three-course experience starts with crispy-tender grilled octopus with giant corona beans, followed by maccheroni alla chittara—thick spaghetti-like pasta in a sea-urchin sauce with generous chunks of crabmeat. Then order whatever grilled whole fish is on the menu—especially sea bream—which Pasternack lightly chars and tops with a bright salsa verde. Your waiter will offer to fillet it for you, but it's more fun to DIY and pick the bones clean. For dessert, the affogato—a scoop of praline-studded caramel gelato swimming in espresso—is the city's finest.

Esca, 402 W. 43rd St.; 212-564-7272 or esca-nyc.com