Entries in Jason Neroni (5)


The Payoff: 10 Downing

Yesterday, a bored and sloppy Frank Bruni awarded the expected two stars to 10 Downing.

We don’t object to the rating. But why did he wait till the 21st paragraph of the review to talk about the food the restaurant is now serving? And why devote the first three paragraphs to innuendo about legal charges that were never proven and subsequently dropped? Is that what Times readers interested in the restaurant needed to know?

What about this: “Mr. Neroni, by many reports, wasn’t the owners’ first choice to run the kitchen … ?” Who exactly reported that? This is The New York Times. Either cite a legitimate source, or don’t print the rumor.

The review is slapdash in other ways. There are three one-sentence paragraphs that begin with the word “And.” You’d think the guy would know how to write a proper paragraph by now. The restaurant is no doubt happy with its two stars, while disgusted with the way they were presented.

We and Eater both took the two-star odds, and earn $4 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $112.50   $133.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   +4.00
Total $116.50   $137.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 53–25   55–23

Rolling the Dice: 10 Downing

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Jason Neroni’s comeback at 10 Downing. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 8-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 4-1 √√
Three Stars:
Four Stars:

The Skinny: The range of outcomes here is bounded by Bruni’s past reviews of Neroni’s work: two stars at 71 Clinton, a singleton at the short-lived Porchetta. We found 10 Downing promising when we visited in mid-December. We weren’t quite ready to buy into two stars, but we certainly thought it could be headed in that direction.

The restaurant has been open for four months. That’s longer than Bruni normally waits. We’re guessing he was on the fence between one and two stars, and wanted to see how Neroni’s performance here would mature.

The Bet: This has been the year of the one-star restaurant. We think Bruni has been itching to find a place to get excited about. Perhaps 10 Downing is that place. We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award two stars to 10 Downing.


10 Downing

Note: This is a review under Chef Jason Neroni, who left the restaurant in September 2009. Jonathan Leiva replaced him. The restaurant has since closed, as did its successor, La Villette.


If you want to know when a restaurant will open, just double the estimate. When they plan to open in a month, it’ll take two. When they say six months, it’ll be a year. Even openings less than a week away are seldom a sure thing.

Then there’s 10 Downing, which finally opened in the West Village on November 12, after more delays than almost any restaurant in memory. In the Timesfall preview, on September 2, Florence Fabricant reported that the restaurant would be opening “Next Wednesday.” But that wasn’t the first such promise: 10 Downing had the dubious distinction of appearing in the fall preview two years running.

As early as August 2007, the chef—then projected to be Scott Bryan, formerly of three-star Veritas—sat for an interview with Food & Wine, and described his plans with some specificity. Exasperated by the delays, Bryan left the project. By December, Jason Neroni had replaced him, with Katy Sparks “consulting.” We’ll skip the chronicle of the restaurant’s many postponements. Suffice it to say that dates were announced and retracted many times over the past year, before the place finally opened last month.

We had some healthy skepticism about Neroni. Since winning two stars from Frank Bruni at 71 Clinton—a restaurant I didn’t love—he has bounced around from project to project, including the disastrous Porchetta in Brooklyn. But he is still a bona fide talent, so why on earth does he need a superfluous “consultant” at his elbow, especially the peripatetic and overrated Katy Sparks?

The concept left me wondering whether 10 Downing would be a mindless clone of six dozen other places. A breathless Andrea Strong announced that Neroni would “create a collaborative, market-driven menu that will draw upon the goods at the Union Square, and Sixth Avenue farmer’s markets.” Wow! Who’d have dreamt it?

Well, after all that, 10 Downing has arrived, and my verdict is a cautious endorsement. If Neroni stays put, this could become a very good restaurant. My girlfriend and I both started with the Duck Meatball Cassoulet ($12; left), and it was terrific. The meatballs were tender and full of flavor. The beans were hearty and well seasoned.

This dish wasn’t on the opening menu, so I gather Neroni is adding things regularly, as a purportedly market-driven chef should be. While I was waiting at the bar, Neroni brought out a pile of spoons and a container of sauce, which he asked all the servers to try so that they could describe it to their customers.

Neither of the entrées impressed us as much. Chicken ($23; above left) and Atlantic Cod ($25; above right) were solid, but unelectrifying choices. That chicken, by the way, was originally offered for two, at $43, but as of last Friday it was available as a hearty portion for one.

10 Dowining is priced a tad below other restaurants in its peer group. The highest entrée is $28, the highest appetizer $14 (with many just $9). I found a very respectable red wine for $40. The total bill was just $115 before tax and tip, which is extremely reasonable for food of this quality.

The space is smartly decorated, with a wall of glass doors looking out over Sixth Avenue. When the weather improves, there will be a large outdoor café. The medium-sized dining room is comfortable, but it can get a bit loud. Service was generally up to par, though a bit less attentive after the place filled up. I loved the warm bread rolls.

It’s hard to forecast the trajectory of a new restaurant, but 10 Downing is already respectable, and if Neroni keeps re-inventing and refining his menu, it could turn out to be a lot of fun.

10 Downing (10 Downing Street at Sixth Avenue, West Village)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½



Note: Jason Neroni and the owner of Porchetta had a nasty split in April 2007, and the restaurant closed, re-opening as Carniceria, a Latin American steakhouse helmed by Alex Garcia of Calle Ocho and Gaucho Steak Co. fame. That restaurant didn’t last long, closing in September 2007.


It seems like forever ago (more like seven years) that Wylie Dufresne pioneered the Lower East Side restaurant revolution at 71 Clinton Fresh Food. Dufresne left 71 Clinton to open the ground-breaking WD-50. 71 Clinton drifted for a while, until Jason Neroni took over in March 2004. Many were smitten, including Frank Bruni, who awarded two stars. I was was not.

A year later, Florence Fabricant reported in the Times that Neroni was leaving to become the personal chef for “some kind of billionaire,” and 71 Clinton was closing. The gig with the billionaire didn’t last long, and by November Neroni was back in town, cooking at Porchetta in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The critics have mostly been pleased, but Frank Bruni, who loves to hand out stars to casual restaurants in the outer boroughs, could muster only one.

I am sure the owners of Porchetta fancied themselves a two-star restaurant, on the theory that if Dressler and The Little Owl could get two, then so could they. Alas, this time Frank Bruni is entirely correct. Porchetta is a decent casual restaurant, and no doubt a step up for its neighborhood, but we tasted nothing that justifies the schlep from Manhattan. The review seemed to be good for business, though. The restaurant was full on Friday night, and several walk-ins were turned away during our short visit.

The menu offers the traditional Italian appetizers, pastas, and main courses. The pasta portions, however, are not large. We started with the potato gnocchi ($13). Even allowing for the lack of depth in the photo (above), you can see it is not a large portion. The light texture of the gnocchi was heavenly, and I loved the quilt of duck proschiutto and crushed black truffles.

Frank Bruni raved about the short ribs ($20), but we were less impressed. We weren’t fond of the puddle of puréed mustard greens surrounding the brick of short ribs, which were adequate but not ethereal. “Not as good as Café Gray,” as my friend put it.

It so happens my friend and I were immediately drawn to the identical choices—the gnocchi and the short ribs. Our server seemed to think this was a bad idea. When we placed our order, she tried mightily to persuade us to order different items, and share. We found her assertiveness a bit presumptuous, and stuck to our guns. (Yes, Virginia, we did discuss our order before telling you.)

At many casual restaurants, the wine list makes the difference between a moderately priced meal and an expensive one. We were please to find good red wines under $40, and indeed, none over $69. We were quite happy with a bottle priced at $38.

The dining room at Porchetta looks like two or three failed decorating projects gone badly awry. In one corner is a black-and-white striped design suitable for a redneck rec room, with a wooden moose head and two more sets of fake antlers with light bulbs on the end. The rest of the room has two different wallpaper designs, as if the owner started a renovation and ran out of money.

You’ll have a decent meal at Porchetta, but it’s not the revelation Jason Neroni’s fans would claim. It’s solid Italian food, in a city that has plenty of it.

Porchetta (241 Smith Street at Douglass Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: *


71 Clinton Fresh Food

I feel compelled to note for the record that I tried 71 Clinton Fresh Food a couple of weeks ago. It’s part of the gaggle of high-end Lower East Side eateries that have opened in recent years. Star chef Wylie Dufresne made his name here, but Dufresne hopped across the street to the award-winning WD-50.

71CFF is now under chef Jason Neroni. I never visited the restaurant during Dufresne’s tenure, so I can’t make comparisons. However, I was underwhelmed. I have already forgotten the appetizer, and a duck entree seemed unimaginative.

Mind you, I didn’t consider myself ill-served at 71CFF. But with appetizers in the $11-19 range, and main courses $19-27, it’s not a cheap evening out. The city, and indeed the neighborhood, has better to offer at that price.

Postscript: Not long after our visit, Frank Bruni reviewed 71 Clinton Fresh Food in The New York Times, re-affirming its two-star rating. The restaurant closed in March 2006, after the chef, Jason Neroni, left to cook for “some kind of billionaire.” The billionaire must not have been smitten, because by November Neroni was back in New York, helming the stoves at an “unpretentious Italian bistro,” Porchetta. That’s now closed, too.

71 Clinton Fresh Food (71 Clinton Street between Rivington & Stanton Streets, Lower East Side)

Food: *
Service: **
Ambiance: *
Overall: *