The neomodernist design of the new Ten 01 is so striking that when you walk in you might imagine for a moment that you're in a bigger, flashier city—maybe Las Vegas or Chicago. A dramatic mezzanine dining room juts over the bar, giant glowing chandeliers cast mellow light, and shimmering gold sheers on the windows allow in just the right amount of streetscape. The round table practically suspended over the corner of Northwest Couch and 10th may be the prettiest spot to eat in town.
Apparently the posh-but-edgy urban look is just what owner Leo Rivera had in mind. "Ten 01 makes Portland a big city," said Rivera, who is also the founder of Bishop's Barbershops and a partner in Tabla and two upcoming restaurant projects, in an interview in PDX Magazine's January issue.
Rivera, a former bartender at the Gypsy, seems to have put his money where his mouth is. The once raw space, on the ground floor of the Pearl District's Henry condominiums, looks like a (couple) million bucks. But a restaurant's good looks only matter until the food arrives at the table. In this not-so-big city, where even formula chains thrive with competent cooking and decent raw materials, and where a few stolen ideas often pass for creativity, Ten 01—with its good looks, hot location and deep pockets—could have been a slam-dunk success. Instead, it's a sad combination of confused ambitions and fumbled execution.
The restaurant professionals responsible for Ten 01 are co-owners Adam Berger and Michael Rypkema (who also co-own Tabla), and chef de cuisine Eddie Robinson. The problems begin with the menu, which Rypkema describes as "intensely seasonal" and changing every four or five days. Dishes are an unappealing pastiche of high-end ingredients and clunky ideas. "Spanish lentils slowly simmered with scarlet runner beans and garnished with sliced organic radish, Oregon black truffles and soymilk-soaked onion rings" ($18), anybody? New York steak with beluga lentils, peppers, carrots, bacon and hedgehog mushrooms ($34)?
How about a main course of Italian sausage and sweetbreads, served with bread pudding and romesco sauce? Hard to imagine what those components are doing on the same plate. Even harder to imagine given the kitchen's execution: desiccated sausage, sweetbreads breaded into ringers for Tater Tots, bread pudding burned black on the bottom, and the romesco—which is supposed to be a vibrantly flavored Spanish combination of roasted red peppers, nuts, garlic and olive oil—tasting like boiled-down marinara.
The same dinner included two equally odd entrees: knife-impenetrable tandoori-roasted chicken breast on a risotto of hard little rice pellets, with droopy, oddly sweet kale ($25 on this visit, although the entree's price has recently been lowered to $20); and black cod topped with Dungeness crab coated in dry-as-dust bread crumbs, on bitter radicchio and fennel, in a puddle of sweet garlic cream sauce ($25). All dishes were a dispiriting symphony in brown, and all were salted beyond edibility.
The best dishes we tried in several visits were raw seafood appetizers, especially splendid oysters (at what may be the city's highest price: $2.50 each, or $30 a dozen) and a martini glass of cubed ahi tuna ($11)—simply brilliant fish, marinated in sesame oil, with a nice spicy kick. A banana wrapped in chorizo and deep-fried ($8) sounded like it might conjure up a Jamaican beach shack, but with bland sausage and too-ripe banana, there were no fantasy vacations here.
Steak tartare ($12), described as "traditional" on the menu, tasted untraditionally of sharp mustard and cayenne, and not much else. The meat for "slider" burgers ($10) was ground so fine the patties verged on mushy, and they tasted of nothing, not even salt. Truffle fries showed up over-fried to a deep brown, and most were inch-long shards, the kind of thing most kitchens throw away rather than dish up at $6 a bowl.
Then there was Ten 01's mystifying take on a classic French salad, frisée aux lardons ($10). When the Frenchies do it, they sa
uté bacon pieces, deglaze the pan with vinegar and pour the hot dressing over the frisée, then plop a lightly poached egg on top; the hot fat slightly cooks the greens, and the egg yolk adds richness and flavor. But what I got at a recent lunch was a tough little nest of cold frisée with no apparent seasoning, a handful of room-temperature bacon bits and an egg fried hard (no sexy, drippy yolk), wedged onto a plate between school-cafeteria roasted beets and shredded raw carrot.
Service is exceedingly courteous and usually well-informed and attentive, but sometimes not: At one lunch when only three tables were occupied, we eventually resorted to facetiously waving our hands over our heads to see if we could get anyone to bring the check. (The bartender finally looked up and alerted our waitress.)
The only truly delicious thing I ate at Ten 01 was the hazelnut napoleon, a construction of layers of nut meringue, caramel and chocolate-hazelnut cream, expertly dusted with gold leaf ($9). The pastry chef's decorative technique is first-rate, but several desserts looked more beautiful than they tasted, especially a mousse of Australian wattleseed ($9), which was described by our waitress as "a kind of cross between chocolate and coffee" and ended up tasting like neither (nor anything else). Valrhona chocolate truffles ($2 each) proved to be 1-inch squares of chocolate—very pretty, but the kind of thing you'd expect as a thank-you at the end of a meal, not an item on the bill.
The restaurant's high spot is the wine list: With about 500 separate labels, sommelier Erica Landon has put together one of the most impressive selections in town, ranging from the Willamette Valley to places like Spain's Priorat and New Zealand's Central Otago. Rumor has it that around $200,000 went into stocking the cellar, and it shows. But an abundance of sumptuous Champagnes and brilliant Burgundies just makes the strained creativity of the menu more infuriating: Exactly which wine did God intend to complement a main course of kamut berries, peanuts, mustard greens, pumpkin and cranberries?
If this were a bigger city, maybe we'd know.
Ten 01, 1001 NW Couch St., 226-3463, ten-01.com. Lunch 11:30 am-3 pm Monday-Saturday, dinner 5 -10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. Bar menu available 11:30-11 pm daily. Happy hour menu available 4-6 pm Monday-Friday. $$$ Expensive.