When Ten-01 opened, it was broadly savaged. I never went under its original chef, but the most charitable reviewers seemed to think it was trying too hard, too clever by half. Then Jack Yoss took over the kitchen, comments rapidly improved, and less than a year later Ten-01 was named restaurant of the year on Portland Food & Drink. After making the restaurant one of Portland’s top tier dining destinations, Yoss left to travel the world. Benjamin Parks was brought in to mixed reviews. It’s always difficult performing under a shadow of success. The expectations are too high. Personally, I had an excellent meal under Parks and was disappointed to see him go.
I’d only been in for a burger and some charcuterie under their current chef, Michael Hanaghan, so when I saw Ten-01 was part of Dining Month Portland, I put it at the top of my list. It ended up being one of the best fine dining meals I’ve had in months.
A friend, Phil, Philthyanimal on PortlandFood.org and Twitter, had been wanting to visit Ten-01 as well, so he joined me. Both of us had understood that there would be multiple options for the three courses, but we were wrong. The menu was set:
tarragon creme fraiche
2008 Evening Land Vineyards, Chardonnay, Pouilly Fuisse, FR
braised veal breast
asparagus, green garlic, beech mushrooms, garlic scapes, sweetbread jus
2007 Beacon Hill, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
chocolate passionfruit cake
gianduja ice cream, rum caramel
NV Yalumba, Museum Muscat, Rutherglen, AU
* suggested wine pairing $15
The wine pairing option is a bonus. I don’t really drink, so I passed, but it seems like a great option for the value-conscious.
Before our meal, we were brought an amuse bouche — one bite consisting of lettuce (endive, perhaps?) wrapped around cucumber, topped with sliced marcona almonds. The lettuce sat atop a single piece of pickled onion. It had a light, summery quality to it, but there was too much almond, obscuring the cucumber. Overall, the amuse fell flat.
Our first course was the mushroom soup. Compared to the rest of the meal, it was direct and uncomplicated. Pureed mushroom soups have a tendency to be either heavy or too intense, overwhelming the palate halfway through a bowl. However, this was perfectly balanced and almost brothy. Instead of each new bite tiring the tongue, each new bite made you want another. The creme fraiche garnish was frothy, like the foam on a cappucino. It made the soup more refreshing than hearty.
I had no idea what to expect from our second course, the braised veal breast. I assumed by “breast” they basically meant “brisket”. That made me think pot roast. Oh, how wrong I was. While the photo makes the meat look like a singular slab, maybe even a thick slice, which has been sauteed, it was actually closer to how fatty pig parts, such as the tail, are often used to make croquettes. Made perfect sense as soon as I realized what they had done. Veal is milder than beef, and as such, has a lot in common with pork. The veal breast meat was shredded, then formed into a patty, lightly breaded, and sauteed, giving it a crisp crust yielding to tender, rich meat. The slab rested on a bed of asparagus, garlic scapes, and tiny beech mushrooms. A rich sweetbread jus glazed the vegetables and unified the flavors of the dish. Wonderful. The full menu version includes crispy sweetbreads, as if the dish wasn’t decadent enough.
The meal finished with a chocolate passionfruit cake with gianduja ice cream (pictured at the beginning of this report). It was really more mousse than cake. A thin layer of intense passionfruit filling separated a thick and creamy layer of chocolate mousse above from a caky chocolate layer below. The flavors were expertly distributed. Each bite began with the tart, aromatic passionfruit puckering the tongue and filling the nose, finally giving way to the milky chocolate. The gianduja ice cream reinforced the chocolate onslaught while another layer of flavor with hazelnuts. A brown-sugary crumble around the ice cream made for a pleasantly crunchy textural change.
After the meal, we were given mignardises: cookies and truffles. I was stuffed and took them home for my wife. She enjoyed them. But I definitely appreciated the fine dining touch of both an amuse bouche and mignardises. Too few restaurants in Portland have such niceties.
In addition to the $25 meal, we ordered another appetizer and entree, plus were brought out a small plate of pasta from the kitchen:
english pea agnolotti
pickled radish, bacon lardons, sauce soubise – 9
foie gras torchon, housemade angel food cake, viridian farms strawberries, fennel-strawberry marmalade – 18
pan seared alaskan halibut
couscous, fava beans, grilled red onions, toasted marcona almonds, butter paoched morels, vanilla-saffron broth – 27
The agnolotti is actually a dish from their upcoming menu of small plates. The pasta is made at Tabla, their more casual sister restaurant on NE 28th. The agnolotti was extremely delicate, the sweet, verdant pea mixture clearly visible through the filled pasta. While the drizzly days of winter still, even in June, have not left us, the mixture of peas, carrots, radish, and bacon in a very light sauce soubise painted the palate with azure skies and ocean breezes. It was a magnificent dish that could not be improved upon. Perfect for the season. Perfect for the ingredients.
And yet as perfect as the agnolotti was, my favorite dish was the strawberry shortcake, a dessert made savory by the clever re-balancing of elements and addition of foie. Look, even to foodies, it’s going to sound odd. I had to bully Phil into letting us order it. But he was every bit as glad that we did as I was. I knew, though, that many of my favorite foie gras preparations involve a sweet element. It cuts the livery, dark mineral undertone of foie.
A wedge of angel food cake sat at one end of the rectangular plate. A cylinder of foie gras torchon lay on its side in the middle. Slices of strawberries were strewn about, one with a dollop of whipped cream resting on it, another propped up on a quenelle of fennel-strawberry marmalade. A piece of cake, a spread of foie, a slice of strawberry, and a scoop of marmalade. Buttery, meaty, sweet, and tart. A little sprinkle of pepper from the plate brought the dish one step closer to savory. The foie wasn’t like a typical torchon. It was creamier, more like a mousse. I could have plunged my finger into it and eaten it straight. My only complaint was that the dish could have used twice as many slices of strawberry.
After two lavishly rich dishes, the veal breast and the foie gras, the halibut was too subtle. As part of a meal it would have been much better following the agnolotti or mushroom soup alone. However, the fish was cooked well, a nice thick crust on top, the halibut firm, but flaky. It sat on a foundation of couscous surrounded in a vanilla-saffron sauce. Butter-poached morels and slightly undercooked favas wrapped in rings of grilled onions joined the halibut. The more I thought about the dish, the more disappointed I was that I didn’t get to truly enjoy it. It was really well-conceived and put together. It just wasn’t meant to follow a foie gras dessert.
Through three chefs, I haven’t had a bad meal at Ten-01. In fact, all my meals there have been good to great. The food, the decor, the service — all give Ten-01 a legitimate claim at being the best restaurant in Portland. I’m not sure I’d make that claim, but luckily once my wife reads this report, she’ll be jealous of my meal and I’ll get to go again soon. The opportunity for three courses at Ten-01 for only $25 shouldn’t be missed.
1001 NW Couch St
Portland, OR 97209