Note: This restaurant is now closed. A newer review was written in 2009. You can see it here.
Back in November of 2006, Adam Berger and Michael Rypkema from Tabla opened Ten-01 in the Pearl district. At the time most people were impressed by the décor, but not by the food. With a plethora of negative reviews, things quickly spiraled downhill, until it was mostly forgotten by the dining public. This all changed in April 2007 when Chef Jack Yoss was brought aboard. His previous experience at W Hotel in Los Angeles seems to have given him the expertise needed to make the food match the potential of Ten 01.
The restaurant is striking; in places the ceiling soars three floors with dramatic light fixtures drawing the eye upward. A medium-sized bar area flanks the South side with lots of windows overlooking the street. A dining room runs down 10th Street, with more large windows which gives a bright, airy feel. Across the back is a somewhat open kitchen. The only thing I don’t like is way the staircase to the upper level is hidden in the back corner of the dining room. It feels a bit strange to parade through the restaurant to go upstairs. Once you go up the wide stairway, there are two more sections of dining room and a nice private space for groups.
The interior stays true to the Tabla and The Henry condominiums commitment to using recyclable materials whenever possible. A booth near the entrance has opaque dividing walls made with rye grass in semi-transparent resin panels; it’s much more inviting than it would be otherwise and almost has a private feel. Carpets are made from recycled fibers, and the bar is a 20′ long walnut beam made from recycled timber, flanked with stainless steel. There are lots of nice touches; it’s obvious a lot of thought was put into the space. Though getting to the stairway is awkward, and the bar area is a bit tight, for the most part everything succeeds. Even with a full house, sound levels are reasonable. Cork has been used extensively throughout the design, which makes a huge difference. All in all, the space is very warm and inviting, cozy yet open and functional. The lighting is well designed, throwing warmth everywhere, making it easy to see, yet never glaring. The walls are all tans and yellows, very neutral and easy on the eyes.
Cocktails are very well made, with great attention to detail. They have dropped the original list and come up with an entirely new and much improved menu. I live in the area, so have dropped in from time to time, and at this point have tasted quite a few. Unlike many restaurant bars, cocktails are not a money-making afterthought here; a fair amount of care has gone into them. As the weather warms, the Oregon Anjou, with Medoyeff vodka, fresh Oregon pear puree, lemon and pinot gris syrup will be a crowd pleaser. It’s light and refreshing for a late spring afternoon ($9). Chartreuse seems to be the comeback liquor for 2008, and Ten 01 has a good representation on their cocktail list. If you are feeling more adventurous, check out The Alaska, with gin, yellow Chartreuse, and Regan’s orange bitters ($8), or the now classic Last Word, which has gin, Chartreuse, maraschino and lime ($8). In the Last Word, the four flavors work together in perfect harmony. For an example of a cocktail that would match perfectly with certain dishes, try the Cryptic Memo – rye, Campari and Ramazzzotti Amaro. It manages to be both bitter and sweet with lots of depth. Not for the faint of heart, but terrific ($8).
The wine list is like an encyclopedia; Sommelier Erica Landon has assembled an excellent cellar. 28 are offered by the glass, though they are a bit on the spendy side with most at $10 and up. The cellar list is huge, and if you are into wine you’ll have a good time just browsing. Prices range from the upper $20′s to the stratosphere. Markup on many bottles is surprisingly reasonable. In addition, they have a wine club, many wine tastings, dinners, and seminars. A friend of mine attended one of the wine dinners, and said, “At 100 dollars I don’t think this dinner was the best value in town; however, the educational component and overall quality of the food is great. These dinners are especially good for people who want a focused way to find out more about wine and to learn how different wines can match with food. I always learn tons of new things from these dinners, and you have a chance to talk to other diners about wine and food in a way that just going out to dinner with friends rarely offers. For those who are more advanced with their wine knowledge, it is a fun and intimate night out.” Finally, most of the wines on the list are available at retail prices. I always appreciate this, because I occasionally run across a bottle I really enjoy, but have trouble finding at retail.
The bar menu has an interesting selection of items from sliders, to Korean short ribs, salads and bivalves. I’ve had a comfortable and very reasonably priced dinner here many times, just sitting in the bar, people watching through the windows.
A few items are only available at the bar, or on the lunch menu, so I’ll cover them first. Many of these are available at happy hour at greatly reduced prices. The sliders, two small burgers made from Cascade Natural beef, are pretty good. Buns are Pearl Bakery, the beef usually cooked as ordered resulting in a juicy, flavorful burger. My biggest complaint is the bun to meat ratio, which seems a bit high. They are topped with good white cheddar, and accompanied by a large side of truffle fries made from organic potatoes, white truffle oil and served with a whole grain mustard aioli (or at happy hour, just one slider and a pickle for a lower price) ($10, $4 happy hour).
On a good night, their truffle fries are downright addictive – crisp and salty with a hint of white truffle oil. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the side of mustard aioli which overwhelms everything else, but you don’t have to use it. Another winner is the house-made bacon-shallot tater tots. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, but not so blazing hot you have to be careful eating them. The bacon flavor goes really well with the catsup, resulting in a terrific appetizer ($6, $3 happy hour). The same could be said of the Korean short ribs. They are perfectly cooked, with a blast of salty, spicy flavor. Also available at happy hour, they match perfectly with a bold cocktail ($6).
One evening I was in the mood for shellfish, and tried both the oysters and the clams. The oysters are as fresh as you will find, and the apple-pink peppercorn mignonette adds a slight tangy sweetness against a peppery background. I’ve ordered them several times, and have never been disappointed ($2.50 each, $14 half-dozen, $1 ea happy hour). The clams were less spectacular. The portion is large, and they are certainly fresh, but when I tried them, the broth flavored with garlic and saffron was boring. They can do better. I have noticed they are now making the dish with an Italian chili broth, garlic, oregano, and sherry ($13, $4 happy hour).
The pricing on many of the items above is a bit confusing, because they are available as different combinations on different menus. You get one slider at happy hour, two on the regular bar menu, with different accompaniments depending on the time of day, so double check with your server when you order. Even though the happy hour portions are smaller, the pricing and quality of the dishes make up for it. Try several different items and you’ll be pleased. This is one of my favorite happy hours anywhere.
I was concerned that dinners wouldn’t meet my expectations, but this wasn’t the case. They begin with an amuse bouche – a bite-sized serving to wake up your palate. One night it consisted of cauliflower panna cotta, crab meat and ahi caviar. It was perfect; all the flavors came through, with the caviar giving a nice crunchy texture. Another night it consisted of raw tuna set into little ceramic spoons on a matching plate. It was covered with a very authentic tasting Thai dressing and a little mound of ahi caviar.
From my experience, Chef Jack Yoss is a master of soups, one of the true tests of a chef’s skill. They are consistently some of the best I’ve had in Portland. My favorite to date is winter turnip bisque with duck confit and a scattering of pickled red onions. It’s absolutely amazing. I went back another time just for that soup. It begins with a slightly sweet note, but then you get the meaty, salty chords from the confit. They go together beautifully. The winter parsnip bisque is another example of perfection. It consists of chestnuts, pickled shallots, and a creamy hot bisque; a perfect comfort food. I couldn’t have gotten that bowl any cleaner without licking it. Soups are around $9 – $12 depending on time of day.
Great attention has been paid to salads. The organic butter lettuce is no exception. It consists of Gene Thiel’s heirloom beets, sherry vinaigrette, barrel aged feta, and toasted pine nuts. They use an amazing feta, which on its own set the salad off from most versions. The beets are in a rainbow of colors, perfectly cooked and sweet. Crunchy cucumber adds texture and unexpected flavor contrast. On occasion the balance of ingredients is slightly off, but flavors are still good. You get a large portion for ($10). An organic butter lettuce salad is perfect. The lettuce is piled high, draped with beautiful light Spanish anchovies, and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and niҫoise olives. Over the top is a light, fresh dressing ($10, $5 happy hour).
If you are looking for an alternative to salad, the torchon of Sonoma foie gras with pistachio paste might fit the bill. It comes with mustard-blood orange marmalade on toast. There are lots of strong flavors, but nothing overpowers, leaving a perfectly balanced dish ($16).
On the night I ordered the yellowtail tuna sashimi with green apple-celery root vinaigrette, it hadn’t been trimmed quite right. It was a little bit veiny on one end, and there was some skin on the other. On top of that, it was really fishy, and we couldn’t taste the vinaigrette over the fish. I could not have guessed what the other ingredients were if I hadn’t read the menu. Out of all the dishes I tried, this was the biggest disappointment at Ten 01 ($14).
House-made charcuterie plates seem to be the big thing in 2008. I’m running across them everywhere, and it is interesting to compare each restaurant’s version. At Ten 01, you get a large selection of items, though the server always rattles through them so fast, I’m lucky to remember any details. It usually contains a really good paté, as well as a wide-ranging array of excellent salumi, grilled bread, grape must mustard, and the obligatory cornichons. I’m always happy with the composition ($14). Another great appetizer choice is the cider glazed Sweetbriar Farms pork belly. It comes with shaved Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and a fried quail egg. This is an inspired combination, light, yet rich and incredibly flavorful. The belly shimmers, with the quail eggs on top, and the chard making up the base ($12).
On to the entrees: I’ve tried the grilled duck breast and leg of duck confit with glazed carrots and thyme jus several times. The breast is really good, juicy and perfectly cooked. One time the confit was a bit dry, but overall this is the best duck I’ve had in a long time. It has a really good, funky duck taste about it – slightly gamey. They manage to cook it so there is a little layer of fat, yet the skin is still crispy. I loved the thyme jus. Accompanying creamed Brussels sprouts were also very good, not holding water, and not blanched too long. Gene Thiel’s carrots were pretty on the plate, yellowed and odd red colors ($30).
Roasted lamb chops are nicely cooked and juicy, slightly gamey, just as they should be. They come with honey glazed baby parsnips that are almost like candy, toasted walnuts and goat cheese gnocchi. It’s hard to find properly cooked gnocchi in a restaurant, but these were lovely – not dry or chewy at all, and the goat cheese flavor went beautifully with the lamb. The combination laid waste to any other lamb I’ve had in Portland ($32).
Pastry chef Jeff McCarthy is a recent addition to the staff, and he’s infused the desserts with a whole new decadent passion. It’s one of those menus where many items are as good as they sound – “chocolate whiskey cake brown butter caramel, toffee-caramel ice cream”, or my favorite, the “chocolate chip banana bread pudding with a rum/caramel.” The latter is the best bread pudding I’ve ever had. The caramel has a nice rum flavor without being overpowering, and the balance of chocolate to bread is nearly perfect. Other desserts which rotate on and off the menu are also excellent. A recent standout was the peanut butter crème brûlée, with its crispy crust, nice custard, and a layer of really good jam underneath. It was like a decadent peanut butter sandwich (all $8).
Service could be much more attentive, and is the one place that Ten 01 consistently misses the mark. I’ve always been seated quickly, and the kitchen timing is just fine, but whether I’ve been seated in the bar area or in the dining room, service falls off as the evening progresses. One slow night I sat at the bar with a friend as the bartender stood gossiping with someone else. She could have sold us a few more cocktails if she’d asked. In the dining room, the same thing happened several times with my wine, but the waiter just seemed too busy. At times, my servers have seemed very nervous and unsure of the food, the wine, etc. It shows a bit of awkwardness at times. One night our waiter was trying to explain the food with a warbly voice and unsure delivery – she didn’t seem entirely confidant that she understood what she was serving. The last time I stopped in for lunch, the server lost a bit of composure and stumbled over a simple question regarding the menu, and then tried to fake his knowledge instead of just saying “let me find that out for you”. More training and practice would help make the service as flawless, elegant, and professional as the food. I have to give a nod to the support staff. The busser is terrific! If they could bring the service up to the level of the lowliest dining room measure, the entire restaurant would be a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, the restaurant has made huge strides since its opening. Jack Yoss has completely revamped the kitchen, making it one of the most sophisticated in Portland. Now that they are managing to make the food match the decor, they’ll have a hit on their hands. It’s in the heart of the Pearl, strikingly designed, and the menu should appeal to both out of town visitors and local residents.