It’s an exciting week for Middletown! For the first time ever, Seasons Federal Credit Union and the Downtown Business District have come together to present Middletown Restaurant Week.
Until Thursday, 20 eateries around town will be participating. Many of these places are offering special prix fixe menus, where you pay $20.12 for an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. To celebrate the first night of the event, we ventured down to Esca Wine Bar and Restaurant on Main Street, where they are offering a special prix fixe menu.
Upon first entering the establishment, we were immediately impressed by the ambiance. The restaurant is fairly large, with lower level, upper level, and outdoor seating. We feel that one of the best words to describe the entire atmosphere is classy.
While some eateries try too hard to appear upscale, and end up coming off as ostentatious or gaudy, Esca boasts a more simple, refined elegance. The color scheme is warm and inviting, the light fixtures and other furniture resemble a somewhat baroque architectural style, and the chairs and booths were exceptionally comfortable. The televisions that hung over the bar were a little off-putting, detracting from the otherwise classic charm.
When we entered, we were clearly not the clientele the staff were expecting, and they did not try to hide their surprise when we asked for the Restaurant Week prix fixe menu. That being said, we were immediately led to a two-person table in a central location on the main floor.
We found the service to be unfriendly, and some of the waitstaff to be unknowledgeable about the menu. Our waitress was cold and short with us; and didn’t make an effort to make us feel like welcome guests. When we asked questions about the ingredients or preparation of dishes, she seemed annoyed when she had to go check.
Unpleasant service aside, we had a generally enjoyable experience at Esca. The food was well prepared, and its presentation was attractive. While nothing we ate was exquisite, it was evident that the cooking staff had put a genuine effort into the meal, especially considering that the price of this three-course dinner was only $20.12.
The prix fixe menu included two appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts. The meal began with warm foccaccia bread, seasoned with oregano, garlic, and oil. The bread was crisp on the outside, and soft and moist on the inside. The amount of seasoning was spot on, and made the use of olive oil unnecessary. When eaten warm, the bread was satisfying; however, once it had cooled down, the texture had changed dramatically, making it seem almost stale.
The appetizers, walnut and gorgonzola poached pear salad and pumpkin ravioli, were the highlights of the menu. The salad featured crisp arugula in light balsamic vinegar and was prepared with a good ratio of walnuts and gorgonzola to arugula. The poached pear, served warm, provided a nice contrast and a subtle taste of autumn.
The pumpkin ravioli was also reminiscent of the change of seasons. Its mild yet evident pumpkin flavor was enhanced by the sage brown butter crème fraiche in which it was served. It seemed to melt in our mouths. Although the small portion of two ravioli proved satisfying and filling, it was so delicious that throughout the rest of the meal we couldn’t stop thinking about how we wanted more.
For our entrees, we chose the housemade fettuccine and North Atlantic salmon. The pasta dish, which is listed on the menu to be served with cremini and shitaki mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, Madeira crema, and shaved Parmesan cheese, was authentically cooked al dente.
Although delicious, we found some discrepancies between the menu description and the actual dish. The tomatoes were not sundried, but were cooked, and we were not given shaved Parmesan until we asked for it.
That being said, the soft-cooked tomatoes provided a nice contrast to the al dente pasta. We were much more impressed by the salmon, which was served with butternut squash caponata, celery root, and lemon thyme agrumato oil. The salmon was perfectly cooked, with a crispy surface and succulent, tender interior.
The presentation of this dish was by far the best we encountered throughout our dining experience, with the savory salmon sitting atop a bed of sweet vegetables and garnished with what appeared to be fried leeks. On the whole, both of these entrees were satisfactory, if not excellent. The one dish that we were not able to try was the pork Milanese, but we assume that it was similar to the other entrees in terms of taste, presentation, and overall quality.
Dessert, which is typically our favorite part of the meal, was unfortunately very underwhelming. The options were a zabaione made with local Connecticut apples or housemade biscotti. Once again, we were misled by the menu. When we ordered the “assorted housemade biscotti,” we were expecting an array of Italian cookies, but instead were served a plate of two surprisingly soft biscotti sitting on top of what seemed like a droplet of chocolate sauce.
In addition, the other dessert could not be considered a true zabaione dish. While it featured crisp and well-seasoned apples, it was missing an essential part of what makes a zabaione a zabaione: the custard. We felt as if we had ordered an apple pie and were merely given half a piecrust.
Additionally, the portion of the “housemade granola” was not nearly proportional to that of the apples.
Overall, our experience at Esca Wine Bar and Restaurant was pleasant but by no means remarkable. That being said, we definitely recommend that you take advantage of amazing Restaurant Week deals like this one.
At an establishment where most entrees are upwards of $20, getting three courses for $20.12 is absolutely worth your while. Restaurant Week gave us the chance to eat at a restaurant that otherwise would have been considerably out of our price range. It’s a fantastic time to experience the breadth of dining options that Middletown has to offer.
Do not miss out on this fantastic opportunity!
—Ari and Alex
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