Yet another restaurant named after its street number and name, but not just any number or name, it's 10 Downing Street. Not the British prime minister's address, but a small street in the West Village, this restaurant's main facade is actually on Sixth Avenue. This turned out to be the biggest obstacle for my friend, Amanda, and I, leading us to hunt for the entrance. We sure were not going to climb in the large window at the corner under the clock. Among the very first for dinner last Friday, we entered through the patio from where a waiter directed us toward the host at the far end of the dining room. The entrance turned out to be just around the corner on 10 Downing Street of course. Unfortunately that side of the restaurant is just a large windowless wall with one single nondescript entrance door. Most vanity addresses tend not to be practical or make sense.
From the outside, the restaurant achieves a bistro feel with expansive hinged windows and doors all trimmed in sharp jet black. A nicely sized patio with umbrellas beckons diners to eat outdoors. On a rather hot and humid day we preferred to dine indoors, the decor of which seemed optimally suited to a West Village eatery. Subtly decorated with dark and mid-tone finishes, creamy walls, contemporary art, portraits, photographs, and outfitted with bentwood chairs, the inside hearkens back to a time where one could imagine dining under a cloud of cigarette smoke while keeping boisterous conversation with Village mainstays about the issues of the day.
As I wondered about the past that could have been, my eyes wandered over the menu of Mediterranean cuisine. Soon our polite waiter offered us a choice of waters but asked if we wanted bread. I don't think I've ever been asked if I wanted bread before but as long as we didn't have to pay for it. We ordered wine opting for the chilled varieties: Amanda had a glass of Pépière Muscadet and I enjoyed a glass of Zweigelt rosé. We ordered from the Restaurant Week menu and the appetizers arrived soon after. The white gazpacho, which Amanda had, was one of the best I have tried. It was full of flavor with notes of cucumbers, almonds, and grapes coming through first as subtle but then distinct. The chicken liver mousse was very smooth and creamy with only the slight tinge of minerality. Accompanied by black grilled bread and a selection of pickles that included ramps and beets, it made for a fine pairing with wine and was ideal for sharing.
For the main course, I ordered the crispy pork belly with creamy corn and tapenade jus. It unfortunately turned out to be anything but crispy. Its bed of sweet corn was nice, but all that mattered to me was the greasily glistening uncooked belly with its gristly and disconcerting texture. Amanda ordered the very tender and flaky haddock à la plancha, on the grill, which was served on a bed of verdant persillade, a parsley sauce, and included orbs of squash. What the fish lacked in seasoning, the sauce made up for in flavor. After debating about the rights, wrongs, and consequences of sending a dish back and Amanda offering me half her fish, I decided to send the flabby belly back. The waiter was polite but pointed out pork belly is indeed fatty, to which my retort was the menu says it should be crispy and insisted to be brought the third option of uovo raviolo instead. Appeasing my displeasure, that dish proved to be very enjoyable. A large raviolo encased a perfectly yolk-drooling soft-poached egg, which was surrounded by salty jamon and tender English peas, dabbed with a bit of truffle butter. It was simple, flavorful, and comforting in its hominess, but would have worked much better as an appetizer. The pork belly, if crisped to perfection, would also have worked better as an appetizer. I just wished the cook would have gotten it right, keeping me from seething jealously over the diners nearby who were enjoying nearly perfect crisped pork belly.
After I had eaten apart from Amanda, a small gap in time elapsed and our desserts eventually followed. Amanda chose the buttermilk panna cotta with vanilla-roasted peaches and I chose the only other dessert option on the Restaurant Week menu, the peanut butter gelato with strawberry marmalade. The panna cotta, a cooked and gelled cream, was very neutral in flavor. It was surrounded by bright roasted peaches that carried a hint of cardamom and was sprinkled with fresh thyme, an unexpected ingredient that made for a nice flavor awakener. I would have gladly preferred it to my peanut butter gelato, a ball of ice cream dropped onto a layer of basically strawberry jam with two batons of toast. Maybe I was supposed to consider it a deconstructed strawberry shortcake, but it truly was an odd combination of components. Though the peanut butter gelato was nice and included bits of nuts, it would have worked better with some sort of chocolate creation. The plain toast was out of place and might have worked entirely better left in the toaster.
After re-energizing over coffee, we would have left sooner if it wasn't for our harried waiter who seemed to be juggling a mass of tables. He simply forgot us until I waived him over. It was Friday night after all and the place was packed, which at times led to hard-to-hear conversations that might have worked better with sign language. Despite the failed dish, the busy waiter, the progressively clamorous sound level, and up-and-down lighting, 10 Downing finds its niche nicely in the West Village. It's worth a visit. But if you happen to order the pork belly, insist that it is fully crisped.
10 Downing Food & Wine
10 Downing Street, at Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10014
Open daily for dinner, Sunday through Wednesday 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., Thursday through Saturday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., and for brunch, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prices range from $18 to $31.