No mention of 10 Downing seems complete without noting how much noise the highly windowed flatiron space generates. Perhaps I'm hard of hearing but the sound level barely registered with me. In fact, I prefer a raucous hum—especially among tightly packed tables—it creates an aural blanket so you can at least have a facsimile of a private meal. On the upside, I didn’t get crammed into a row of two-tops either. A spacious corner banquette miraculously opened up, making the 15-minute wait well worth the temporary smooshiness. The narrow holding pen really can't contain the crowds that amass. After being seated just beyond the far end of the bar, drinkers began spilling over into the dining area behind the back of our L-shaped seat. Our waiter offered to shoo them away but I didn't want to be that kind of asshole.
The menu is one of those hand-wringers where so much is going on that I'm not sure how to compose my meal. Pastas in two sizes, small plates, charcuterie, grilled prawns by the piece, then full sized mains. If I weren't self-conscious I would've ordered the whole cured meat shebang but knowing I read somewhere that it could easily feed three-to-four diners made me balk (though I recall a similar portion suggestion for the charcroute at Irving Mill and thought it was totally acceptable for two). Plus, I wanted to try at least one other item.
I lamed out and selected two meaty treats: pork belly rillettes and duck prosciutto. And yes, it was plenty. The thing about rillettes is that once the main ingredient has been moussed it's not like you can discern the original cut of meat (At least I can't, and also lack the palate to discern fat percentages and meat sources comprising hamburger patties.) The spread was rich and definitely porcine but I would never be able to identify it was pork belly. Duck prosciutto is a great idea since the dark meat is rightly rich, oily and striped with a nice white stripe of fat, like pork prosciutto plus. (Timely: one of the gifts I gave James later than evening was a copy of Charcuterie, mainly for the smoker recipes but there is also one for duck prosciutto I want to try. Also timely: my opening up directly to a passage about Charles Ingalls, a recent fascination, and his venison smoking practices in Little House in the Big Woods,) Accompaniments included mini apple cubes flavored with mustard and pickled green beans, carrots and cauliflower.
I'm always happy with hearty winter vegetables like brussels sprouts and these were pleasers keeping in the style of the restaurant: rich, strong and shy of overwhelming. The runny yolk, anchovy vinaigrette, sharp parmesan shavings and breadcrumbs melded everything together. I recreated a not-half-bad rendition of this dish for dinner last night.
Mild disappointment set in when we were told upon being presented with menus that the porchetta special was a goner. Decimated by 8:15 pm? Oh well. I wasn't immediately drawn to any of the entrees either. I could've ordered another appetizer instead but wanted to see how the mains played out.
Duck breast with Tokyo turnips satisfied my obvious taste for root vegetables and dark meat poultry. I felt like all of the components remained separate, not just visually, the flavors didn't want to integrate either. Turnips were firm and bitter, the figs were soft and pickled sweet and sour, the grass green swaths were beautiful but didn’t taste distinctive. Everything looked pretty and the meat was cooked just rare enough but the overall impression was flatness. Or maybe sense of taste had been dulled after the more aggressive starters.
Braised beef cheeks, saffron cabbage, bone marrow soubise, mustard spaetzle.
I don't know how I fell for the molten cake. I refuse to knowingly order those damn soft-centered pucks out of some misplaced anger at their pervasiveness across all cuisines and strata of restaurants, highbrow and low. The description just said chocolate cake. How could I have known? Of course it was wonderfully gooey and pleasant. The malted gelato and crackly salt caramel topping is what made the dish, though.
Just like how Momofuku Ko waylaid me with their music (I'm still baffled that someone on a message board scoffing a bit at my typically tangent-filled write up referred to me as a "he." Do I sound like a dude when I write?) 10 Downing divided my attention with the art. The more I drink (two glasses of Cote du Rhones with dinner and two glasses of a random happy hour Italian red at Dove Parlor earlier) the more I focus on things other than the food. Not a crime when they are distractions I enjoy. I never thought I'd live to encounter a collage containing Mark Lester in the bathroom of a West Village restaurant serving $27 entrees.
The dining room features a pleasing hodgepodge of paintings and photos curated by Tracy Williams, Ltd. From my seat closer to where the angles of the room converge into a triangle there were no walls. However, I was face-to-face with a row of black and white publicity shots and drawings of what appeared to be child stars, though I only recognized a few faces. An infant head covered in a blanket, Spanky from Little Rascals, pupil-less Orphan Annie from the comic and Jonathan Ke Quan, the Asian nerd from The Goonies. Though it's not likely apparent from this here blog, in past online and print lives I devoted quite a bit of energy to child stars, E.T.'s Henry Thomas being number one. In my Portland days I decorated my studio apartment with framed photos of Ike Eisenmann, Peter Ostrum, Mark Lester and the like. At the time it never occurred to me that this would be an appropriate motif for a trendy restaurant.
I'm not sure if this series on 10 Downing's wall was art or décor (I haven't yet deduced who the creator is). I do know that it endeared me to a restaurant that I otherwise might've categorized as solid but typical of what's currently en vogue. Strange how these things work. I'm emotional not rational, and even though I've smartly closed the gap significantly with age my impression of brussels sprouts can still be enhanced by the presence of long forgotten juvenile actors.
10 Downing * 10 Downing, New York, NY