Note: This is a review of ’Cesca under Tom Valenti, who shortly thereafter severed his ties to the restaurant to focus on his other Upper West Side property, Ouest. Frank Bruni paid a visit to ’Cesca in October 2007 under the new chef, Kevin Garcia, and liked what he saw.
My friend and I had dinner at ’Cesca a couple of Fridays ago. I was sporting a 101-degree fever and wasn’t in the mood for fine dining, but we had an opera to catch, so there we were.
’Cesca was a hit pretty much immediately after it opened in late 2003. Along with its sister restaurant Ouest, ’Cesca marked the arrival of fine dining in a neighborhood that had had precious little to choose from. Poor William Grimes, in his two-star review for the Times, complained that he could only get 5:30pm reservations. That’s still true, by the way. Our reservation was at 5:30 for an 8:00 opera—earlier than I would normally choose, but nothing later was available.
The decor is warm, comfortable, and welcoming. There seem to be enough soft surfaces to catch the sound, and prevent ’Cesca from becoming an echo chamber—like so many other contemporary restaurants. In the middle of the night, I wouldn’t mind tearing down some of the velvet curtains and transporting them to BLT Fish.
I had the cauliflower soup (a daily special) and a wonderful duck ravioli. It’s not the restaurant’s fault that I didn’t finish them, but I just wasn’t up to it that day. My friend had a tomato and mozarella salad, followed by a huge veal chop (also a daily special), which she pronounced a huge improvement over one she had recently at Cookshop.
We had only one complaint. My friend ordered a side dish of mashed potatoes, only to find that her entree already came with potatoes. She said, “There are enough potatoes here to feed the whole Upper West Side.” (That side dish was a huge helping, which even two people might have trouble finishing.) A server really should tell you that the entree you’ve ordered already comes with a generous helping of vegetables.
I really was out-of-it for this meal, but we’ll definitely return—if we can get a reservation, that is.
’Cesca (164 W. 75th St, east of Amsterdam Ave, Upper West Side)