Saturday, March 6, 2010

Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar - Middletown, CT

Once a month I get together with a couple of good friends for happy hour and for our last gathering we decided to try Esca, located off Main Street in Middletown. I had been looking forward to trying Esca for some time; that area has a great dining scene worth exploring.

The façade is unassuming, blending right in with the rest of the surrounding buildings. However, upon entering the restaurant, we were immediately struck by the lush and elegant Italian décor, from the impressive chandelier in the front dining area to the expansive cave in the wall above the bar. We sat at the bar and marveled at the Italian murals and upper level dining room that looks out onto the restaurant; as if you were sitting on a balcony in the Italian countryside. After reading the menu, it was decided that we would have to return to Esca, perhaps for dinner. Since it was happy hour, we decided to choose a couple of appetizers and wine. Sarah, our outgoing bartender, took our orders for the olive bowl, cheese plate and calamari.

Let’s chat about the wine list! It’s well balanced, broken out by style. It’s easy to choose based on preference, and not confining. I think too often we pigeon-hole ourselves into one type of grape and where’s the fun in that?? And now back to the food.

Our plates arrived and happy hour was well under way. The olive bowl was a colorful assortment of marinated olives accompanied by parmesan twists. Personally, I could live on olives and thought the bowl would be a perfect way to start out any meal! The cheese plate contained several artisan varieties; unfortunately I didn’t get the names of each. We were not complaining as we savored each slice with a dip of organic honey. Included with the cheese plate was a fun “fruit shooter”, a tiny cocktail of raspberries and Prosecco. Calamari was served hot and fresh with a snappy red pepper aioli. During our evening, we observed dishes coming out of the kitchen….pan seared scallops, mussels, and gnocchi to name a few. Everything looked delicious (duck confit flatbread and Cioppino are calling my name!) and the servers seemed to genuinely care about their customers.

To finish the evening, we rewarded ourselves for making it to Friday with a dessert. A little coffee and biscotti with chocolate sauce was the perfect thing to enjoy while we chatted our troubles away.

Refreshed from our Friday-cation, we parted ways and decided to put Esca on the short list of places to return.