I live right near Esca, and being the Batali and Bastianich fan that I am, I was surprised at myself that I hadn’t been in a while. I had been once, years ago, on a work lunch, but had never been back since.
And now… I will never go again.
I worked in restaurants a few times over my life, and because of that I have a lot of empathy for people that do that job and I’m a chronic over-tipper because I know how underpaid restaurant staff is for the amount of shit they have to put up with.
But there is no excuse for treating customers the way we were treated.
We walked into the restaurant pretty late on a Saturday night. It was well past peak hours (though not near closing time), and we had eaten a very late and large lunch. We were looking for a bite, maybe some oysters and cocktails. We would have been happy sitting at a bar, and knew that if Esca couldn’t take us, we’d just go elsewhere.
We should have known immediately from the hostess that this was not going to be a good experience. We walked in and noticed that the restaurant was less than half full. We asked the hostess for a table for 3. She looked at us as if we had asked her if she likes to eat dog poop. She wrinkled her nose and said she didn’t think she could seat us. Well okay then… plenty of fish in the sea. We would find another place. “Wait…” she said. “I think I can find space for you. Let me see.”
We waited a few minutes and she came over to tell us she could seat us, and made it sound like it was about as much of an inconvenience as it possibly could be.
We sat (surrounded by empty tables, mind you). And sat. And sat. We asked for menus twice from bussers. We finally got some about 20 minutes after sitting. Within moments of sitting, our waiter was there to take our order. We asked him for a few minutes. When he came back, we ordered drinks.
It took a good long time to get our drinks, so in the meantime, the waiter came up to take our order.
“We’ll have one dozen oysters please” said we.
“And?” snarled the personification of snootiness.
“That is all.”
We held… and soon a manager came up to us and informed us that we had to order a minimum to sit at a table. I explained that we were only there for a quick bite and drinks, and that it said in no location that there was any kind of minimum.
The manager shrugged and said that was the rule.
While I was inclined to leave on the spot in a huff, our drinks were already on their way and it was late. And frankly, I was feeling pretty lazy. I figured we would suck it up and order some stuff to satisfy their demands. We added a few things to our order and when we asked if that was sufficient, the waiter rolled his eyes at us. HE ROLLED HIS EYES AT US. He said he thought it would be okay.
We waited a good amount of time for our drinks and oysters, but finally, they came out. They were actually quite good. Nice and briny.
And then we waited. And waited.
A long, long time later, the crudo came out. I will take this moment to remind you that crudo is RAW.
All the crudo was very good. And impressively, they managed to not get peppers in any of it. (Thank goodness for small favors?)
We especially liked the brill and mackerel crudos, but my favorite was the mahi mahi with almonds.
And then… we got a lemon.
And this lemon sat there.
And sat there.
And sat there.
A full 40 minutes that lemon sat, all alone, on the table. Finally, our food showed up.
First came the Fritti, which was crispy cornmeal crusted halibut cheeks, Louisiana shrimp and vadalia onions. This was pretty unremarkable, but not bad.
And we had the monkfish. I wrote down that it was “great.” “Perfect flavors.”
We were then given some petit fours. Nothing super.
At the very end of the night, we looked at our watches and noticed we had been there for over 2 and a half hours. Absolutely ridiculous. We also walked out of there spending about 4x what we came in meaning to spend, due to the “minimum” rules.
We opened up the bill and noticed that the bottle of wine was not charged. When the server came back in a rush, we asked if the wine was taken off, and he said “yes yes” before the question even came out of my mouth. I’m not sure if he actually even heard me. And if the wine was taken off, perhaps that was part of an apology from the manager for how bad the service was? If so, why didn’t he come over and say something? I have a feeling it was a mistake and the waiter couldn’t be bothered to actually listen to my question. So we paid our bill and were on our merry way.
I want to empathize with them, I really do. But this was absolutely unacceptable service. The rudeness, the wait times, the obvious neglect for our table. It’s not like we came in looking like bums (though that shouldn’t matter either), but even our water glasses went empty for long periods of time. I know that some places require minimums, but if that is the case, it should be printed on the menu. Period.
I have to imagine that if Batali actually knew what was going on in this restaurant, he’d slap a few people. I only say that because I want to hold Batali in a little bit of revery as I have to date. I want to assume this is something he would never stand for.
And I won’t stand for it either.
Congrats, Esca. I spend tens of thousands of dollars on dining with clients and I will never be coming back to your establishment. And I live next door and drop a good amount of my salary on eating out. You have lost a customer. A good one.
But every customer should matter. Period.
Total Nom Points: 3 out of 10 (and only because the food was pretty good)