Comfort Foods at 10 Downing

My sister and I visited 10 Downing, in the West Village, on a cold and rainy night. Our clothes were soaked through by the rain by the time we had walked the three blocks from the train to the restaurant, and our teeth were chattering. Upon entering, though, we were suddenly warm and comfortable; the wedge-shaped dining room glowed by candle light, and the windows looked out onto 6th Avenue and reminded us of how lucky we were to be indoors. Photographs of child actors gazed down upon us; I recognized Macaulay Culkin, Gary Coleman, and an almost impossibly young Jodie Foster. Why were these photos there? I have no idea. I also have no idea how to classify the food at 10 Downing; despite its British name, which I suspect is just a happy coincidence based on the actual address of the place, our meal transcended any cultural boundaries, touching on cuisines as diverse as Italian, Thai, and American Southern. The one constant was that the food was very, very good.

The portions were also enormous. We each started with a salad — my roasted beet salad with arugula was piled so I could have climbed to the top and planted a flag. There weren’t quite enough of the wonderfully sweet beets, but the vinaigrette was really flavorful and everything was nicely balanced — the sharp red onions, the cooling slices of cucumber. My sister’s fresh garden vegetable salad was no mere “mixed greens” — there were whole pieces of fresh broccoli, asparagus, and kernels of corn. The salads were both good, but way too big for one person, at least one person who planned on eating an entree and a dessert afterward. Which we did.

My entree was a vegetable pot pie with curry and coconut. It’s a combination of flavors and techniques that works very well together, and on such a cold and rainy night was an incredibly comforting dish. And it was huge. My sister’s fettucine was also great — you could feel the freshness of the pasta when you bit into it, and it was perfectly cooked. And her plate was also huge. We also got a side of the cheddar grits, thick, slightly spicy and baked like polenta.

Best of all was my dessert. In a nod to the British name, I ordered Sticky Toffee Pudding. Next to the pot of cake was a small dish of what I thought was whipped cream. I took a bite of the cake, and it was warm, sweet, rich, full of complex flavors. Then I dipped my spoon into the “cream” and realized it was way too firm to be whipped cream. It couldn’t be butter, I thought. I tasted a bit and realized it was creme fraiche. I then put some of the creme fraiche onto the spoon, then dipped it into the pudding, and took a bite. Bliss. There was some magic in the combination; the creme fraiche added creaminess and a bit of acidity to every bite. I couldn’t believe how good it was. Here is the face I made when I bit into it. I got the optional scoop of gelato on top — I asked for Guinness flavor but what they gave me was chocolate. I can’t complain, it was also excellent.

Again, it’s hard to quantify the type of food served at 10 Downing. What kind of meal encompasses a curry pot pie, grits, and sticky toffee pudding? A darn good one, that’s what kind. All I know is that it will be a long time before I get the memory of that excellent dessert out of my head, but I know I’ll remember the comforting warmth of the dining room, sharing a good bottle of wine with my sister, for years to come.

10 Downing — 10 Downing St

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