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Networking: Dave Pasternack

Chef, Esca, New York

By James Wright
January 01, 2010


QUOTE: "You know what my tombstone is gonna say? Copied by many, imitated by few."

Dave Pasternack is to a fish fillet what Michelangelo was to oil paint. Pasternack's master works, however, rarely last long enough to marvel at, as every morsel from his brilliant brushstrokes is soon a happy memory on his satisfied diners' empty plates. The Long Island chef's Sistine Chapel is Esca, considered by many the finest seafood restaurant in New York. And you never know - the fish you eat there just might have come from Pasternack's hook.

JW: What does it take to stay on top 
in New York these days? Have you had to change?

DP: I think it's always important that the restaurant constantly changes. Adaptation is really important. Competition came, you know, some competition went. At the end of the day I have enough connections and I know I can still produce a better product than any of the other guys in town.

How often are you fishing these days? 

I was going a lot, but they've chopped away at all the choices! Fluke is gone; can't catch sea bass. Had some phenomenal days catching stripers in early spring. But this summer, we had no residents [fish]; all the residents disappeared. At the end of the day, they're going to have to review the quotas for striped bass; some states allow fishing, some don't.

Is buying fish getting harder? 

The fish business is changing. It's evolving. It is getting harder. I think the federal government's involvement [in commercial fisheries] is somewhat troublesome, because they can barely run their own government, you know? Now they're running people's businesses. I understand restrictions and I think it's important. But they need to go back and rethink they way they manage this stuff. 
Take flounder. It's indigenous, very prolific on the East Coast, but they always open up flounder on St. Patrick's Day, when the fish are no good to eat because they're spawning. Let them spawn, produce their babies, and wait two months, then you'll have a fish that's good to eat. They should manage the fisheries with the future in mind. Like cod in Gulf of Maine, they manage it better it now. They should do that everywhere.

Do guests ask about sustainability? 

Quite a few people ask me. It's a tricky issue, man. I kinda go, "If the government lets the guys catch it, I'll buy it." Even though I know they can't manage it themselves, but they gotta have some kind of information that tells them it's OK to open the fisheries.

Do you sell much farmed seafood? 

I use the branzino (loup de mer) and turbot, that's about it.

Will crudo catch on in the United States ? 

It has. Go to any city in America and they got crudo on the menu. You know what my tombstone is gonna say? Copied by many, imitated by few.

What's your favorite seafood right now? 

I'm gonna eat some swordfish in a minute. I got a spectacular pumpkin sword today from a local hook-and-line fisherman. Great pumpkin color and loaded with fat.

How does it get that orange hue? 

It's gotta be from a combination of cold water and what it's eating. I don't know if it's necessarily a freshness thing - it's gotta be what it eats. This fish had really no bloodline. I mean, look at the fat on this thing - and it's ice cold. I bought half the fish, and it was 89 pounds.


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