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10 Downing

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.

10 downing interior

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.

10 downing pork belly rillettes & duck prosciutto

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.

10 downing brussels sprouts anchovy vinaigrette poached egg & parmesan

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.

10 downing duck breast pickled figs tokyo turnips & shallot marmalade

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. 

10 downing beef cheeks saffron cabbage bone marrow soubise mustard spaetzle

Braised beef cheeks, saffron cabbage, bone marrow soubise, mustard spaetzle.

10 downing chocolate cake almond ganache salted caramel with malted gelato

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.

10 downing childstars up close
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

Taking It to the Streets

Writing about Southeast Asian street food served indoors would be my ultimate assignment because I love the region's cuisine and have a fetish for dining in malls abroad (ok, here too). 

Robyn of EatingAsia got to live my dream for the Wall Street Journal. It's really not her beat, though. She and her husband (both Americans who I met during my 2005 Kuala Lumpur trip shortly after they had moved there) are really masters of the street food scene. Ok, scene sounds overblown but they know what they're doing.

I've been to quite a  few of the venues mentioned in the article: Madame Kwan's, StraitsKitchen, Food Republic and Lau Pa Sat (as a foreigner I consider that a real hawker center not so much "stylish street food"). I've  also eaten at Bangkok's MBK Shopping Center, though not the specific restaurant mentioned. I recently had my sights set on Central World or Siam Paragon, but Suvarnabhumi Airport ruined my end-of-2008 vacation. And yes, I'm still bitter.

Does Anyone Really Eat Ribbon Candy?

Strange haul

Whenever James returns from visiting his parents in Northern Virginia I get scared. When returning from trips related to a gift-giving event such as Christmas or a birthday, I become even more frightened. I have a low tolerance for useless crap and clutter. If I had my way, it wouldn't enter the front door because once it has crossed the threshold you know it's stuck in the apartment for life (or until I move).

It's one thing to lug home lamps and potholders sourced from stores like Home Goods or the back section of Marshalls that looks just like Home Goods, but in some ways the oddball cast off food is even worse. Monday night I was faced with the following:

¾ of a white fruit-topped cake from Giant (I tried a slice because I can't resist desserts in the house and the damn thing was 85% whipped cream, 10% dry cake, 5% flavorless fruit…so disappointing)
2 packages of Oscar Meyer bacon
4 pounds of powdered sugar (have you ever heard of Holly brand?)
2 bananas
1 Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich
1 Chick-fil-A waffle fries
1 packages of Vortman sugar free Almondette cookies
1 bag of Barcel pork rinds (a Mexican brand)
1 2.25 pound bag of Sun Maid raisins
1 bottle of V8
1 tray of Costco sweet rolls
1 pound of Costco butter
6 assorted Kashi TLC bars
18 extra large eggs
1 bag of stale looking cookies with lots of German and Russian words (The only English reads Ginger “Lux” cookies. These look to be a product of Moldova imported to Brighton Beach. I imagine these were purchased during a trip to Brooklyn, forgotten about, and now repatriated.
1 box of hard ribbon candy (about as foul a treat as candy corn, but it certainly is pretty)

So many abnormal sizes and peculiar brands, half probably past their expiration dates. EVen my cat is baffled. One would say that this bounty definitely provides a window into the psyche of the givers.

I was happy for the Chick-fil-A items, though, since those were specifically bought for me somewhere in Maryland. Now that I look at it, most of the non-sweet items are useful. I'm still not touching the unappealing cookies, candy, cake or the powdered sugar. I can't even recall the last time I used confectioner's sugar and I don't see any glazing or frosting in my future either. If only I could go a little re-gifting of my own.

Pa is My Co-Pilot

I have a particular fondness for Michael Landon’s touching portrayal of Charles Ingalls, a.k.a. Pa on Little House on the Prairie (I swear more than once I caught my own dad’s eyes welling up with tears during an episode. He was full of paternal pioneer spirit, too) as well as smoked comestibles, so a friend’s impromptu birthday celebration at Diamond in Greenpoint served me well. By the way, have you ever seen the real Charles Ingalls? He sported some seriously au courant facial hair. 

Smoke beer

Never a beer aficionado, I just discovered rauchbier, a German smoked beverage that tastes like a campfire. A little goes a long way as I’ve been discovering with the newish smoker in my household. (I will soon be experimenting with different flavors—cherry, hickory, alder—since last night I gave a wood pellet assortment to James as one of his birthday gifts. He shares the same date of birth as Jane, who was the guest of honor at Diamond, but missed out since he was out of town.) If they can mentholate beer, why not add smoky overtones?

I need to stop complaining about the state of dining in my neighborhood because Greenpoint seems unusually bereft of choice. I have plenty of options in Carroll Gardens and environs; I just don’t happen to like many of them. If you don’t want mediocre Japanese, Thai or even exemplary Polish what do you do?

Lokal pork ragu

I ended up at "Mediterranean Bistro" Lokal, primarily because it was close the subway, en route to drinks afterwards and inoffensive enough (probably a little too inoffensive). Pork ragu with handmade pasta was actually pretty good and soft enough that I could justify eschewing the mush-only wisdom tooth extraction regimen I’d been following. It's not the most attractive plate of food but it was very satisfying.

The birthday season has begun and the first of my fellow 1972ers has turned 37. The greatness of that number shocks me. Thankfully, I still have four months to spend staving it off.

Everyone's pa

On the upside, I was able to convince a few guests to pose with Pa. My favorite bar decor so far this year. 

King Yum

I wish I had known I was going to be in Floral Park earlier in the day so I could’ve tried Keralan food for lunch. In fact, I wish I had known quite a few things before heading to the Queens/Long Island border early Saturday evening. One being that the movie theater I was looking for that was still playing Swedish teen vampire movie, Let the Right One In, (don't tell me Robert Pattinson is hotter than this kid with zero pigmentation and a pageboy) was housed in the lower arcade of a retirement community. Two, that Let the Right One In had been replaced with He’s Just Not That Into You.

Sure, there was a theater 30-minutes away in the East Village also showing the film but I was intrigued by what Northshore Towers Twin Cinemas far into the outerborough fringes could possibly be like. I was relishing the prospect of an empty house in a weirdo location and as the black-and-white checked finish flag appeared on the GPS device when I all I could see were three ‘60s era co-op towers looming in the middle of a field adjacent to the Grand Central Parkway, I became more intrigued.

Northshore towers

While the Northshore Towers website paints the property as luxury residences, all I saw were walkers, canes and oxygen tanks. In the basement of the Beaumont building, you’ll find a gussied up diner filled with middle aged children dining with their parents, a grocery store for tenants only and a cinema with a hard ass security guard.

Northshore towers beaumont

We were told we had to wait behind the velvet rope because the previous movie hadn’t let out yet. We were the only expectant patrons so I had time to scrutinize the Xeroxed movie schedule taped up on the glassed enclosure and was alarmed to see that Let the Right One In had been whited out and He’s Just Not That Into You had been scrawled on top in block letters. Argh. My plan was too good to be true. After asking the humorless gatekeeper which movie was actually playing, she went downstairs fetched the manager, a younger brunette version of the Crypt Keeper (god bless your soul, Geocities), who had no idea what we were talking about.

Northshore towers cinema

He was all, “Er, I just play what they send me.” It was finally determined that he had no idea what Let the Right One In was and that it was never sent. I have absolutely no idea how it ended up on Moviefone in the first place (the schedule on the theater’s website is currently for the week of March 6-12 so no clue there). A white haired couple had appeared by this point and after noting the painful romantic comedy, slowly shuffled away.

The only thing I could think of that would soften my disappointment was finally being able to pay a visit to old-school Americanized Cantonese King Yum in nearby Fresh Meadows. How would it stack up compared to Staten Island’s Jade Island, the only other restaurant of this ilk that I’m aware of?

King yum interior

The dining room was appropriately bambooed, thatched and set off with wooden tiki carvings. A karaoke cabana was set up against one wall. Tall burgundy vinyl menus with fantastical rum-based cocktails on the front page seemed like a good sign.

But all in all the food was as I’d expected it to be: merely average. James thought the space was dreary and that little things like the duck sauce to the spicy mustard tasted off or watered down.

The cuisine isn’t meant to be mind-blowing, which is why I focused on the pupu platter for two and only ordered one entrée, General Tso Chicken. Lo mein would’ve been appropriate but I didn’t want to go overboard.

Nostalgia doesn’t come with a twentieth century price tag. The prices were a little higher than I’d expected. Sure, you can do the column A column B combos, and maybe most diners do (the Queensy crowd didn’t strike me big spenders) but a la carte dishes were well into the teens and the pupu platter was $20.

King yum cocktails

I chose a zombie to go with my sterno-warmed treats. Maybe I haven’t been giving fruity drinks a fair shake because this wasn’t half-bad.

It could be an east coast west coast thing but I never had wontons with sweet orange duck sauce growing up. I don’t really get their appeal though I do like the crunch they add to hot and sour soup. The sauces of my youth were candy apple red sweet and sour and ketchup in a little circular dish that also contained a small dab of hot mustard. My first ever job was bussing tables at a restaurant a few blocks from my high school called Hunan Garden and I’d spent the first 15 minutes of my shift pouring sticky still warm sweet and sour sauce from a tea kettle into little plastic to go containers. Hot mustard was doled out sparingly, only to the half-way mark.

King yum pupu platter

The pupu platter contained thick beef wedges on skewers and spare ribs, both dangerously sinewy and wanting to occupy the open space in the back of my lower right jaw where my wisdom tooth lived three days prior. Puffy hyper-battered fantail shrimp (they always remind me of fat miniature seals) were a must. The shrimp toast was oozing oil yet I still found the crispy mousse topped triangles irresistible. The foil wrapped chicken was odd. I think it was flavored with a shitload of curry powder, kind of bitter and yellow-tinged with a hint of crushed coriander. I heard a girl at an adjacent table refer to these as Thai chicken. Maybe the curry powder makes it so? Definitely not my favorite.

King yum general tso chicken

The general tso wasn’t breaded and crispy as anticipated. I know there’s a real version of this dish that’s not battered, I’ve made it myself, but when I go to a restaurant of this ilk I expect crispy nuggets. There's no denying the silver dome is classy, though.

King yum pina colada Once the fruity cocktail floodgates had opened I felt no shame in ordering a pina colada. I’m not sure if it was my vicodin (this meal ended up being a huge mistake considering I was supposed to eating soft food only) or if they actually went heavy on the rum, but I started warming to King Yum after the second drink. I still prefer Jade Island. Even though it’s in the middle of a strip mall the kitschy establishment feels more like a hideaway.

There was no rectifying our thwarted Swedish teenage vampire flick. The least offensive movie playing after 9:30pm in the immediate vicinity was The Reader in Kew Gardens. I was at least hoping for some hot cougar action (ok, I actually take issue with anyone getting that label, but especially anyone under 40) but was faced with a bit more nazi schmaltz than I would’ve liked. Bizarrely, the couple in front of us left within the first 30 minutes, before the film even went south.

King Yum * 181-08 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows, NY

Chew on This

Things have been quiet around here, not so much because I’m lazy, but because I can’t eat anything except mush and I’m foggy from pain killers. I had my wisdom tooth out over a week ago and something went awry and it’s not healing. Hmm, maybe I attempted corned beef, hamburgers and a pupu platter a bit too soon. I was being optimistic. After a return visit to the dentist and a new batch of vicodin, I am now back to oatmeal, soup and yogurt. Despite being three pounds lighter (temporarily, I’m sure) I am also greatly saddened, not to mention starving.

Reading about the opening of Num Pang makes me want to cry. I don’t know if I can read food blogs until I can eat real food again.

On the up side, I am just about exactly half-way through the 896-page 2666. A little book learning never killed anyone.

Breakfast of Champions

Those Jeopardy get-to-know-me snippets after the first commercial break are always painful. I try to tune them out, but when I heard “propose” and “wife” on an episode last month (it’s taken me this long to figure out how to capture and upload a video from TV and it's still wonky) I opened my ears back up immediately.

No disappointments. Matt Cushman has quite the romantic tale involving a box of cereal and—yes, you guessed it—an engagement ring.

I’d like to poke a little more fun but no matter how cutely I get my hair cut with time it invariably morphs into Matt’s limp hairstyle. I cannot mock someone with a similar flat frazzled do (plus, the last time I mentioned a Jeopardy contestant, they went nuts in the comments).

Mystery Solved

I wasn’t expecting Arby’s as the mystery chain taking over the Gage & Tollner spot because it’s not as if we haven’t experienced Arby’s in the city (two in Queens and one now closed in the Manhattan Mall).

I used to eat a Beef ‘n Cheddar and Jamocha shake for lunch practically every day as a high school freshman so I’ve been swayed the allure of Arby’s (I don’t think I’ve foot in one in over 15 years, though).

I would just be concerned about their move into a landmarked building. In 2005 Arby’s razed Niederstein’s, Queens’ oldest restaurant, and built right on top of the spot.

1939 Niederstein's photo from Maspeth Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday Night Special: Pig’s Ear Salad

Pig ear salad

In a thrifty attempt to work through all of the odds and ends that have accumulated in my two freezers (yes, two) before allowing myself to buy any new perishables, I found a stash of pigs’ ears. Waste not, want not.

It’s strange that dull gray supermarket ground beef that’s been lazing around in a deep freeze for months doesn’t bother me but these large (much larger than I realized from the packaging) fleshy flaps gave me pause. Hooves and even chicken feet don’t bother me much, but these ears seemed so lifelike.

I originally bought them to recreate the pig’s ear salad I had at Resto, which I now believe is also served at Irving Mill.

The salad part was straightforward. The original uses escarole. You could use any hearty greens. I happened to have some aging mesclun in the fridge and beefed it up with big handfuls of arugula.

Tarbeis beans are a French cassoulet bean. Not something I keep around the house though I did have flageolet, a common substitute. It was too late for soaking so a can of ordinary cannellini sufficed. I’ve never made cassoulet, maybe I’ll muck that up on a future Sunday before it gets too warm for such heavy food. I think I’d better hurry.

A poached egg is the crowning glory. I overcooked my yolk, sad since I love lots of warm runniness. But I’m not a perfectionist, I could never be a recipe tester with all of my impatience. A semi-set yolk wasn’t ideal but I wasn’t going to toss it out considering this whole exercise was to use up stagnating ingredients not create more waste.

Pig ears

The tricky part was the ears. I had no idea they were so tough, my normally adequate knife barely sawed through the double-ply slabs.

After a trip in a wok full of hot oil, my ribbons were crisped to brown, maybe a little too dark. Cooked slower and longer in subsequent batches and tossed with salt, they still ended up all crackle, little chew. Maybe Resto had special fatty, tender or possibly smaller or younger ears. Theirs felt like a wonderful bacon-crouton combo. My recent experience with pigs’ ears outside of Resto (at A Lorcha in Macau) were also very crunchy and cartilage-heavy just like these.

Even though I’ve never knowingly eaten chervil, I’m convinced that licoricey herb appeared in the original. No chervil at Fairway (nor frisee—maybe I’m doing something wrong because I can never find frisee). Instead, I added minced tarragon to a Dijon vinaigrette.

This dish would’ve been much better with lardons. Of course everything tastes great with lardons. Pig’s ears take more finesse, which I have yet to master.


1/2 So many recession specials, so little time. Maybe a year ago I would’ve felt self-conscious ordering the $35 menu in a pricy restaurant, but not so much right now. Well, maybe a little bit since I didn’t notice anyone else choosing the budget options. Then again, I wouldn’t really lump myself in with the overly perfumed satin-frocked girls’ night out crews nor the large parties of Japanese businessmen, anyway.

During the afternoon I was having an unusual craving for Brazilian churrascarria, but it turned out that James was still doing that Friday Lent thing that I find highly confusing (because why would any religion’s god not want you to enjoy like every cut of meat known to man?). Seafood and noodles, it was then.

We waited in the bar for only about 10 minutes until a proper two-seater opened up (I harbor no inner commie; sharing tables just isn’t convivial to me). In the meantime, I sipped a refreshing shiso cocktail in a tumbler that was possibly meant to serve as a Japanese mojito even though seemed more like a vodka tonic. Whatever it was, the beverage was a step up from the pricier than expected Yuengling pints at Nancy Whiskey Pub a few blocks north. Six dollars for pre-7pm cheap beer in those divey (yes soothing) surroundings?

Matsugen tofu miso soupThe six-course omakase is a good value, it turns out, and no the wasabi nuts don’t count as one of that sextet. The only caveat is not to expect a leisurely meal. Pacing was rapid and plates were brought well before previous dishes were finished. Maybe that’s the price you pay for being frugal.

 Both tofu and miso soup are so delicate in general, I barely have an opinion about them. This could be an exemplar version and it might be lost on me.

Matsugen kampachi sashimi with spicy ponzu

The kampachi sashimi was hotter and tarter than expected despite the “spicy ponzu” giveaway in the dish’s name. As you can see, said sauce was thick and more like a coarse dressing and really adhered to thin pinkish slices of fish. I would gladly eat a larger portion of this.

Matsugen crispy shrimp

The crimson hue of these shrimp makes them look potentially spicy but really the flavor came from the crispy and well-salted exterior only. You can nibble the shishito pepper for heat, if you like. A similar rosy shade tints the mayonnaise dollop evoking Thousand Island dressing, though I’m sure the condiment was not courtesy of Kraft.

Matsugen sushi

Sushi time. No outsized bulging monsters here. Just fresh salmon and tuna with optimum ratio of fish to rice. It goes without saying that I could’ve eaten a few more pieces.

Matsugen mushroom soba

Soba is the only decision to be made. Mushroom or duck. Here is the meatless version served like a soup. Both sobas are warm.

Matsugen seiro soba with duck broth

The duck version is for dipping. I don’t know that it’s for eating. I mean, they don’t give you a spoon with this. I had noticed some of those Japanese businessmen holding bowls up to their mouths so assumed it wasn’t wildly uncouth but the broth was very intense and soy saucey and probably not intended for drinking neat. They do call it broth, though. It’s sauce. The seiro soba is light and a blank canvas for that that so-called broth.

Matsugen vanilla caramel pudding

Finally, the flan course or more precisely, vanilla caramel custard. I wasn’t expecting something so sweet but was happy it wasn’t black sesame sludge or green tea sorbet.

Ultimately, I wasn’t completely bowled over even though everything was well prepared. I only sampled an abbreviated menu, though. Matsugen is still worth recommending. You could expend way more energy and cash and have a much less satisfying experience.

The aspect I was most struck by had nothing to do with the food. It had to do with the service…specifically our runner. This was the third time in less than a year that I’d encountered this same guy, a soft-spoken E.A. with a high-timbered voice and accent of indeterminate origin. His presence seriously freaked the hell out of me. I first saw him at inoffensive Asiana in Kips Bay (so blah that I never wrote about it here and the review that I was sent there to write never got published). Shortly thereafter, I saw him at Cambodian Cuisine on the Upper East Side. And now at Tribeca’s Matsugen, a totally different beast in aspirations and location.

Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I asked if he used to work at Cambodian Cuisine and he then said he’d seen me before but thought it was from a previous Matsugen visit. Bizarre. James says he’s a Richard Alpert-style Other, never aging, passing through time. Me, I think he’s a part of The Pattern a la Fringe. And no, I don’t think he’s a Terminator, Hero or Cylon.

Matsugen * 241 Church St., New York, NY