How to spend $400 at ’CescaHow to spend $400 at ’Cesca

We got ourselves into a crazy situation last night, where we were forced to eat at and to spend $400 on our meal. I won a contest on this random American Express website by writing two sentences about why I wanted to eat at

I spent the week looking over the menu and wine list, trying to crunch the numbers and make it to $400.

Anyway, back to our money problems. I announced to the server right away what our situation was, and she said she already knew about the gift certificate (since Amex made the reservation for us, I guess, and scored us a sweet corner booth). She suggested a strategy of several courses and nice bottle of wine, and so we ate like a couple of starving tramps. With our glasses of sparking Italian castaldi ($15 each), we enjoyed a duck salad ($15), delicious parmesan-pancetta fritters ($9), and the burratina special ($14). After taking a short break, we moved onto the special farrotto of the day, with lamb ragù, goat cheese, brussels sprouts, and mint ($28). It was my favorite dish of the night, deeply lamby and intense. We also had the disappointing scallops and cauliflower, served under a bland sauce of capers, raisins, and pancetta ($30). The scallops were fine but I’ve had better versions of this dish. If your sauce of capers and raisins ends up bland, you have done something terribly wrong.

At this point we were quite full, but we trudged through two desserts ($10 each): a warm chocolate cake with gelato and coffee soil, and an Italian cheesecake. The chocolate cake’s flavor was intense and good, but its chilly interior revealed its careless execution. The cheesecake was too salty to be called a dessert, and I’m someone who doesn’t mind plenty of salt in his sweets.

After all of this eating and drinking, we had only spent $271. I confessed to the server that we were full, and told her she would have to keep the remaining money as her tip. “Sorry, the gift certificate is for product only,” she replied. What? Not to sound ungrateful, but this was a real buzzkill. Why wouldn’t they tell us that on the gift certificate, or when we were discussing how to reach the magic number? Had I known, I would have ordered a much more expensive bottle of wine. The only way to get the bill high enough was to have her cork another bottle of $100 wine, pour us tiny glasses of it, and then bag it (you can take wine to go in New York, but only if it’s been opened and started).

The wine made a sweet parting gift, but I felt a little disappointed having to leave an $80 tip when I had an outrageous gift certificate to use. It didn’t leave me feeling very pampered, to say the least, although of course it was all worth it. I just wish I had known about it from the beginning, and I sent a message to American Express telling them as much.


What if you look at it from a different angle? You got a bargain! A $400 meal for only $80!! That’s amazing…especially in NYC!

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