November 17, 2008 | Insatiable Critic

10 Downing: Delayed But Delicious

Prawns off the plancha get a lift from olives and  toasted garlic. Photo: Steven Richter 
Prawns off the plancha get a lift from olives and toasted garlic. Photo: Steven Richter

        The seemingly jinxed and slow-pokey delays at 10 Downing dulled my expectations. Tales of chefs signing on and jumping the boat were not encouraging. That’s why food so carefully cooked and jumping with flavor in an early tasting is a wonderful surprise. Consultant Katy Sparks in cahoots with chef Jason Neroni has conjured up marvelous starters: giant prawns a la plancha with toasted garlic, roasted beets with red grapefruit and blue cheese, and a lusty toss of Brussels sprouts with shards of parmesan in anchovy vinaigrette to squish with a perfectionist’s soft-boiled egg.


A scattering of bitter greens tempers the heady richness of gnocchi. Photo: Steven Richter

        The two cooks play with all the usual ingredients as if they just invented them. Crab-and-cauliflower-cream-stuffed
Bison Hanger Steak. Photo: Steven Richter
agnolotti, licorice-black from squid ink gets extra pizazz from pickled peppers and a citric rush of lemon butter. A few leaves of bitter greenery balances the voluptuous richness of homemade potato gnocchi with braised porcini, butternut squash and sheep’s cheese. A remarkably juicy chicken for two nests on arugula panzanella salad with currants, chopped almonds and preserved lemon, reminding us of Judy Rodger's mythic bird at Zuni Café in San Francisco. I wish this one came in a shallow bowl with more salad.
 
        Chickpea fritters arrive, a gift from the kitchen lest we miss a chance to observe how gossamer chickpea fritters can be. Aligot puree, a refined version of a killer potato dish from the Auvergne, is another $6 side, along with fennel gratinée, swiss chard with roasted garlic and more Brussels sprouts (this time with guanciale – pig jowl bacon). 


10 Downing is a large triangle full of art and noise. Photo: Steven Richter

        Granted bison hanger steak with papas bravas (chunky little fried potatoes) to dip into garlicky aioli is a tweak on a cliché. Slightly less caloric bison scarcely dents the cholesterol rush but I’ll brood about that tomorrow at Tara.

        Souffle-like bitter chocolate cake is baked to order, worth waiting for while you share lemon curd with toasted pound cake and lavender cream. Or espresso semi-freddo with candied mandarin orange (I’d like a little more of it since we always share dessert).

 


It looks like a mess but it’s a star role for Brussels sprouts.  Photo: Steven Richter

        A triumvirate of partners – Joel Michel, Stephane Dorian and Vincent Seufert – have filled the casual, window-wrapped room with art on loan including what might be a compelling photo series (too close to the ceiling to see). There is even the ubiquitous, apparently essential antlers near the bar. And come spring, there is room on the sidewalk for a jam of tables.

        I can actually read the menu without a flashlight. That’s a plus. All that glass and hard surfaces churn up a wall of noise (“We put you in the quietest corner,” I'm told). The recorded sounds of jazz are cool and at times, actually sound live, a miracle, I suppose, given the din. Excited as I am about the food, I’ll be back.

10 Downing Street at Sixth Avenue. 212 255 0300

 

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