Restaurant Review: Table No. 10
Table No. 10 likes to gamble, with the occasional big payout
Table No. 10
369 10th Avenue,
San Diego tablenumber10.com
Pig ear tostadas
Crispy chicken dinner
Risk-taking is a good thing. Trying to please everyone is the best way to put them to sleep. To that end, Table No. 10 in the East Village gets high marks. Chef Jason Gethin’s menu is a collection of daring, small-portioned ideas. Pig ear tostadas. Rabbit cooked adventurously rare. House-smoked pork collar. It’s what some might call food-people food.
The first item on his menu doesn’t seem so rarefied. Parker House rolls. That’s about as classic as American dishes get, invented 100-plus years ago at the Parker House Hotel in Boston. They’re legendary for being soft, sweet pillows of butter. Only Gethin’s are served with bone marrow butter. The tweak speaks to the restaurant’s other main theme: the joys of being a carnivore. With an inspired cocktail program and very few meatless dishes, Table No. 10 is a nice place to get a vegetarian drunk.
This is one of a handful of newish restaurants in the East Village, joining Común, Bottega Americano, and Stella Public House. It’s the second concept in the space from co-owner Cooper McLaughlin. The first, a gourmet burger joint called The Corner, opened in 2008 and lasted until last year. For this second act, he partnered with Gethin (formerly exec chef of Union Kitchen & Tap in Encinitas), and renovated the spatially challenged two-story location. The big adjustment is the ground floor. Where once there was just a kitchen, they converted dead space into a chef’s table (Table No. 10). It’s a special little cubbyhole for a group tasting menu. The kitchen itself has six bar seats where diners are served by the chefs, à la David Chang’s Momofuku Ko.
In a pig’s ear: Fried pig ears topped with hickory-smoked pork and jalapeño "caviar"
The main dining room is upstairs. Feels like you’re dining in the rafters of an old warehouse. The part where ghosts live. A huge white wall is painted with a silhouette of life-sized telephone poles and wires, dotted with crows. I could see Gethin toying with sous vide raven. There’s a white plastic deer head (no-kill taxidermy) on the wall above the bar, Edison bulbs strung haphazardly on a red cord as a light fixture. The floor is that unfinished concrete bistros love these days. It’s a nice, mood-lit room.
Both nights I’m there, I’m grateful for my love of ’80s music. Because the tender new wave jams of OMD are blaring. I’m not yet old enough to get cranky about loud youthful noise. But it’s a tad strange when you’re eating suckling pig rillettes under mood lighting to have a disc jockey bellow every 15 minutes, “It’s the amaaaazing ’80s!” A DJ-free music program would be welcome.
Speaking of those rillettes—suckling pig is truly a marvel to eat. Killed at six weeks, the meat is pretty much all soft muscle and collagen (which breaks down into extremely tender gelatin). Gethin’s are good, served with grilled bread. Also good are his scallops, well-seared and dusted with peppers in a prosciutto vinaigrette. I could also recommend the quail, served pleasantly charred next to crispy cubes of cinnamon-crusted pork belly. A leg of octopus is served with fully charred lemon segments, peel and all. It’s obviously not a garnish or intended solely for a squeeze. So we eat it expecting the worst, and it’s really good. The peel and pith’s astringent tartness has been mellowed (probably using sugar of some sort, but it’s not overly sweet). Octopus really comes alive when the tentacles are charred, offsetting the natural sweetness of the meat. Ours isn’t charred at all, though it is very tender.
Crisp to perfection: Crispy chicken with linguica arancini and mustard kale
The pig ear tostada is a freakishly great idea—using fried pig ears as the “shell” topped with hickory-smoked pork and jalapeño “caviar.” The faux caviar and tender pork are delicious, but the ear itself hasn’t been cooked long enough or sliced thin enough. The result is hard to chew.
Technical issues like this need to be ironed out before Table No. 10’s execution matches its ambitions. For instance, most of the purées we try over two nights are pretty under-seasoned. We order the riff on cassoulet with pork collar, a little-used cut of the animal. The flavor of the rub and jus is excellent, but the exterior is too charred, the interior is far too dry, and the accompanying beans are simply bland. The duck ragù has a bold blast of cinnamon that works really well, but it’s also got too bold a dash of salt.
Then there’s the case of the rabbit. We’re served a tenderloin sliced into medallions. I’ve eaten a lot of rabbit, and this is the most rare I’ve ever seen it presented. Dangerously close to bunny tartare. My dining companion is a pretty well-known chef who grew up hunting and cooking rabbit. He’s never seen it so rare.
First class quail: Quail and cinnamon-crusted pork belly
We show it to our server. “Yes,” she says. “The chef says that’s the perfect way to cook a rabbit.” And then she abruptly leaves. She doesn’t inquire whether or not we’d like it a little closer to medium rare. (It should be noted that service on another night is exceptional and informative.)
It tastes—well, exceedingly of rabbit. Usually close to chicken, this tastes like wild game (although it must be farmed rabbit). And again, it’s under-seasoned.
Maybe Gethin is forging a truer appreciation of the protein than I’m aware of. So I take a photo to show chef friends I know. “If you open a book by some great French chefs,” one tells me, “you’ll see recipes for rare rabbit.” I show him the photo. “Oh no,” he says.
Regardless, the point is that some self-awareness needs to accompany risks. An order of the rabbit should immediately trigger a response from the server. “A note on the rabbit. It is served exceptionally rare, which our chef says is the perfect way to cook a rabbit. Shall we proceed?”
Ironically, the risk-taking restaurant serves a rather flawless “crispy chicken” dinner. The skin shatters, is perfectly seasoned, and it’s served over an almost pickled mustard kale that brings the perfect amount of acid to offset the fat of the chicken skin.
May I have s’more? S’mores doughnut with ganache, bruléed marshmallow, caramel, dehydrated chocolate mousse, and vanilla custard
Dessert is a tale of two nights. One night the s’mores doughnut is phenomenally decadent, like a confectioner’s arancini. The fried round pastry is filled with gooey ganache, plated with bruléed marshmallow, caramel, dehydrated chocolate mousse, and vanilla custard. The next night the doughnuts are room temp and the ganache a solid chunk.
Risks are the only route to reward. At Table No. 10, some work well. Some don’t. But I’d rather a chef try for art and occasionally miss the mark than warm me up another boring old commodity.