'cesca redux

Two early visits to ‘cesca disappointed, and the place fell off my radar until my friend Kevin Garcia took over the kitchen. He was the exec chef at Lucca, our restaurant at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, then cooked at Lupa for a while before he helped Batali open Del Posto (and decamped soon after). My husband and I went to ‘cesca last night.

The space is sprawling, low-ceilinged and dimly lit, with dark brown velvet banquettes that make it feel even darker and heavier. But the food is good enough to make up for the ambiance. Kevin has been here since May, and is still shaking down the kitchen crew and working on some consistency problems, but there’s a lot of promise here.

Amuse: Crostini of marinated eggplant, sprightly and lush, was a nice accompaniment to a glass of prosecco.

Apps: Sweet, creamy Tuscan mozzarella scattered with heirloom cherry tomatoes, excellent EVOO and basil was delicious. So were my zucchini blossoms, stuffed with mozzarella, lightly battered and flash fried, served with tomato coulis and wild arugula.

Midcourse: Kevin sent out some crudo – tuna and yellowtail (I think) – that was overwhelmed by lemon, and needed more crunch than the microgreen/chopped chive garnish provided.

Pasta: We split an order of braised duck ravioli. The filling was nicely flavored but pasty; leaving the duck in shreds would have improved the texture. The balsamico-laced sauce was a bit over-reduced.

Mains: Roy ordered the daily special of tagliata di manzo, slices of rare ribeye served with the meat juices and mixed greens - a good straightforward dish. My choice of scallops with capers, cauliflower and raisins bore little resemblance to Jean-George’s signature preparation, and it was brilliant. Four huge diver scallops, seared golden, surrounded a thick cross-section of cauliflower slowly caramelized on the stove and finished in the oven. Sultanas provided bursts of sweetness; capers and caperberries added briny crunch; bits of pancetta helped pull all the flavors together.

We were too full for dessert. The tab, including three glasses of wine, was $140 before tax and tip; rather high for a neighborhood restaurant, but Kevin’s cooking might make it a destination.

‘cesca, 164 W. 75th, 212-787-6300


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