Sitting down to a great Italian dinner is usually a whole thing. At some point, someone will come over to your candle-lit, linen-draped table with a comically large pepper grinder and make it rain on your pile of chopped romaine. Then you’ll probably spend a little too much time getting your spaghetti twirling technique under control. A meal like this is typically time-consuming and pricey, and requires an outfit you didn’t just do trampoline pilates in.
That’s why we love Esters Enoteca, a casual Italian spot that’s incredibly useful if you just want some wine and pasta without any drama.
The entire operation works like your garden variety sub shop. You order at the counter and take a number to your table, but instead of lunchmeat and a soda fountain, you’ll find pasta on porcelain plates and shelves of wine behind the bar. Regardless of whether you come with a human or a book, you want to be here during Happy Hour from 3-7pm, when everything on the menu is $2 off. Which doesn’t sound like much, but seeing as how the steepest dish is $14 to begin with, you could easily end up with a nice plate of carbonara for $12 - and still be able to afford that Fandango ticket service fee you never see coming. It kind of feels like stealing even though you’re still participating in a legal financial transaction.
photo credit: Nate Watters
We like starting with some fried things at Esters, like cheese-stuffed arancini or crispy duck fingers. But you’ll really want to get acquainted with the pasta. The bolognese has that rich flavor that only comes from simmering for several hours, or magic. And, unlike most dry and oversalted carbonaras in this town, Esters’ is perfectly saucy and smoky. It’s hard to say no to that unless you’re vegan. And if you are, the plant-based kale caesar is a good choice.
Is Esters the best Italian spot in the city? No, it’s not. But the food is still stupidly good, and with the Happy Hour deal, it costs less to eat here than it would to cook the same things at home. Plus, you won’t even have to do dishes - unless you already have some piled up in your sink, in which case, you should do something about that.
Vegan Kale Caesar
It would be difficult to identify this salad as a caesar if we found it on the side of the road. There’s no romaine, parmesan, or anchovy to be found, but it does have some radicchio and spiced walnuts. We don’t care though - this is a great plate of leaves.
Crispy Duck Fingers
These things are so good it makes us angry. Picture tender duck confit that’s been battered, fried, and drizzled with a spicy yuzu honey. Also, picture the claws from Roald Dahl’s “The Witches.”
For $14, you could buy a couple of three hole punches from Office Max, or you could buy a bowl of this excellent bolognese. It doesn’t punch holes through stacks of paper, but what can you do?
This is basically the best bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich in town, only in pasta form.