FOODBUZZING AT TEN 01 – May 3, 2008
When Foodbuzz originally emailed me last fall about the Restaurant Roulette Blog becoming part of their food network and me becoming a Featured Publisher, I didn’t know what to think. For one thing, did I need to be associating with the likes of people who were interested in more widely circulating writing like mine? (Scary, let’s not forget that “person” who emailed me after the Fife dinner and said it was the worst review they had ever read, and that I had clearly written no more than a postcard before that time.) I asked my tek-support-Queen what she made of the invitation, and she thought it was probably some mass generated approach to drum up advertising dollars. I looked at the sample pages that Foodbuzz sent my way, and must say it looked like a classy, food-driven group who did want to generate some advertising dollars, but who primarily seemed to want to create a new internet driven information network encompassing dining, cooking, and a “food lifestyle.”
Although some extremely modest advertising revenue certainly would never have bent my nose out of joint, after minimal research my fears were confirmed that I had two choices, move my blog from WordPress, the free site that allows no advertising of any kind, or forgo the advertising revenue and just GO FOR THE WIDE REACHING FAME!! As I don’t exactly live in a gigantic city, and my blog was basically semi-obscure, I figured my traffic would never be enough to generate a lavish lifestyle from advertising hustling anyway, so I decided to stick with WordPress but still accept the kind offer of Foodbuzz to join their ranks as a Featured Publisher, san the ads. At first I was worried that I would get second citizen status because there were no ads on our blog, but from the beginning Foodbuzz has been wonderful to me.
Within the first few weeks of joining Foodbuzz, a welcome signing bonus came my way to improve my site, so after that digital photos regularly began to liven up the Restaurant Roulette dinner reviews. Not too long after, a surprise package came in the mail from Foodbuzz, a wonderful little box of personalized 4-Color Process business cards advertising our blog, something I had been wanting to have, but not pay for. (As I know better than most people, full color business cards are not cheap.) Then about a month ago, a solicitation from Foodbuzz, they were hosting a local dinner of Portland’s Featured Publishers, and wanted to know which of two possible dates looked best to me. Free eats, meeting some Foodbuzz people and also fellow local food bloggers, it really didn’t matter which of the two potential dates to me, I was SO there.
Soon I was notified that the dinner would be a Saturday, as most people preferred the dinner then, and that the location would be Ten 01. Hmm, I thought, Ten 01, that indeed sounds like the kind of place people from a swinging food city like San Francisco would select, very oh so Pearl, expensive, trendy, a place for beautiful people to rub shoulders and nosh on ultra fancy victuals. I had never been to Ten 01, or attempted to take our group there, largely because the restaurant, upon opening, had been dumped on by every restaurant critic high and low. It was hard to remember any high-end restaurant taking such a critical drubbing and not immediately folding up its tent and leaving town (although Bay 13 down the way hasn’t exactly been raking in lavish critical praise either.) The people in charge of Ten 01 know how to do a quality restaurant though, they’re the same people behind the delicious cooking at the 360 degree different Tabla, so before long a new chef was brought on at Ten 01, Jack Yoss. Since that time, I had read some largely favorable reviews of the place, so didn’t mind checking it out, especially on someone else’s dime (looking at the menu prices later, I have to say, Foodbuzz generously put out many, many dimes.)
As Restaurant Roulette has been around for almost two years now, it’s been quite some time since I faced the reality of a dinner where I would show up at a nice restaurant and dine with a group of totally non-familiars, something never easy for me. Also feeding my apprehension, I had had no other notice or confirmation from the Foodbuzz people that the dinner was actually still taking place, (although it sounds like some went out,) so I had visions of showing up at Ten 01 and having the management there have NO IDEA what I was talking about, and having to turn tail and slink home in infamy. So far the Foodbuzz people had been great though, always replying to my goofy emails in a humane and speedy fashion, so I assumed that as I had not been told the dinner was not taking place, it was still on as planned. To make myself feel a bit better I had checked out Seattle’s Foodbuzz Blog and seen that they had recently had a fun sounding Foodbuzz dinner, so I knew the whole free dinner scenario was probably not a figment of my always dubious imagination.
I felt much better, when arriving a few minutes early to Ten 01, I saw recognition on the hostess’ face when I asked for the Foodbuzz reservation. Ten 01 is one of those places that makes you feel like a float in the Rose Parade when you are shown to the table, you don’t just walk towards a table, you proceed with an aura of ceremony and precision to your eating area. I was so happy a dinner was taking place, I guess I just didn’t pay as much attention to the decor in the restaurant as I usually do, it seems to me the lower floor was the nicest, with maybe a dark colored theme, but looking on the website, the photos actually have a more goldish tint. I did notice although it was still light outside, the inside of the restaurant seemed quite dark. I really should have paid more attention to the decor, because I know when it opened Ten 01 was one of the most expensive to build restaurant spaces constructed in P Town. My tastes tend to run more towards the funky or rustic though, so glamorous or glitzy just doesn’t register that much on my meter. I was shown up a grand staircase, and on the second floor I’m pretty sure the colors were beige, gold, taupe and metallic magenta. The gold and magenta wall covering reminded me much of a mylar balloon or fancy wrapping paper that’s hard to use.
As I was embarrassingly not tastefully late, the only two people there when I arrived were the Foodbuzz girls, Ryan Stern (Managing Editor) and Shannon Eliot (Editorial Assistant) both fiddling with their cameras. Sadly missing was Jen Ko, Assistant Manager, the person who had kindly and informatively answered all my dithering questions and concerns in my earliest days of Foodbuzz contact. It turned out Jen was in Nebraska, and it seemed her absence was lamented by her cohorts all evening, as she was spoken of as a goddess of food and photography, and she had chosen our menu selections, so she was at least there in spirit. Her absence was only a modest blow, however, as both Ryan and Shannon were so nice, and so enthusiastic about food, dining out, and their food network, and sounded like they were cooking up lots of other fun Foodbuzz events for the future.
Originally, I was unsure how large a dinner this was going to be, as Portland has 95 or so blogs on their Foodbuzz site. I think Ryan said there were eighteen or so Featured Publishers in Portland, and seven had accepted the invitation, so our dinner was to be for nine. Rather skankily, two never bothered to come, which in my eyes seemed like a pretty poor showing on our part, considering Portland’s incredibly burgeoning restaurant scene. Anyway, whomever you two bloggists were that didn’t bother to show up, I hope you had legitimate reasons, it seemed pretty shabby on your part to not put in an appearance. Whatever the case, it was all your loss, how often do people fly in from San Francisco to host a lavish dinner at one of Portland’s most expensive restaurants in your honor? Does the word Schmuck come to mind?
Anyway, on to the sensible folks who did show. First up, Heather, hostess of “Eat Wheat Free, Dairy Free, Low Sugar.” Although I had never actually viewed Heather’s site, as wheat, dairy and sugar make up most of my diet, she did look vaguely familiar, as she is one of those good looking people with an attractive and healthy looking picture to open her blog (no wonder I just have words for my logo.) I’ve actually known quite a few people over the last 10 years or so with a similar diet, generally people with a health issue who want to change their lives for the better, so I know quite a bit about avoiding wheat, dairy, and sugar, opposite of my diet or not (I practically live on dairy products.) Next to show up, the quiet voiced “Fresh Loaf” fellow. (I embarrassingly call him that because my verging on senior ears kept missing his name. Floyd maybe? Sorry, sorry. I do know you live in Fairview though.) I certainly knew the Fresh Loaf site, as the entries are everywhere on Portland’s Fooodbuzz homepage. It seems a great many people love bread. I know I do, and that’s why I love living in a town with the likes of The Pearl Bakery, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, and the omnipresent Grand Central, because I’m just too lame to make my own, although the Fresh Loaf site proves that many people are not so lacking in bread ambition. On my right sat Elizabeth, Blogmistress for “Lizzy Dishes Portland”, a fun blog discussing food, music, and going out in Portland. I could relate to Elizabeth, as she too hosts a dining group, and she too has felt the frustration of trying to host dinners where no one will commit to attending (interestingly, this happened to her when she tried to take a group to Ten 01, and no one would come.) Finally, sliding in at the far end of the table, Emily, Sustainable Fashion Designer, Band Member, and Hostess of “Love Menu” a blog celebrating food, friendship, music and fashion. Emily and I seem to like many of the same restaurants, so it was interested chatting with her.
Considering the location and how it was trashed in the early days, the staff at Ten 01 seemed really nice and helpful, and I don’t think I’ve ever had my water glass filled so many times. That being said, the food service at Ten 01 was glacial from the get go. Some of it might have been that we were tucked away upstairs, and that the restaurant was modestly busy, but the entire evening moved at a crawl once cocktails were served. Thank god Ryan and Shannon were there to tell us their interesting stories all evening about life in San Francisco (we all seemed envious, except for the expense) their Foodbuzz dinners all over the U.S., and about what it’s like working at Foodbuzz in general. The evening was by no means boring, but it became obvious from the get go that getting through the four courses of this dinner was going to take forever, and sadly, Heather actually had to leave after two courses. But that’s jumping ahead.
Ryan was quite excited that Ten 01 had printed out specialized menus for just our group, and it indeed was a nice touch, the menu’s reflecting three choices in each of the four courses our dinner involved (as mentioned earlier, selected by Jen Ko.) Ryan told us we could order whatever we wanted, including a cocktail if desired, and as a free cocktail is something I always desire, I charged ahead. My selection was the DK – a beautiful orangey concoction of vodka, kumquat, and brown sugar. It was almost too lovely to drink, with the speared kumquat floating on top, but thirst before beauty, so down it went (not in one sip, really.) It was delicious, refreshing, and relatively potent. Ryan selected a Manhattan, which it seemed to me, looked much like a Manhattan. At the other end of the table Emily came up with something off the specialty drink menu, and I got the impression it was not overly to her liking, as she said the lingering flavor was cough syrup (I hate choking those things down.) The two women on my right were interested in nice cocktails sans alcohol, so Ten 01 whipped them up some delightful looking concoctions in a green shade that Elizabeth said were yummy.
For the first course our selections were a choice of a lovely bowl of steamed clams with broth and bread, the fois gras plate with a chutney type accompaniment and toast points, and the crudo of hamachi, which was a shimmering portion of fresh raw hamachi with grapefruit green peppercorn vinaigrette, shaved fennel, and citrus salt. Two or three of us had the hamachi, and it was delicious, incredibly delicate and subtle with the citrus dressing providing just the right zing without being overly acidic. Although I keep reading that raw fish like this is basically terrible for you because of the mercury content, to me it seemed like a really light and healthy way to start my evening, and the portion was very generous. Really overwhelming in size was the Fois Gras plate, which it seemed like Ryan had about three bites of and distributed everywhere around the table (she struck me as a gung ho eater, but she’s really tiny, so perhaps this is her secret, order lots, eat little. I think Emily ended up taking lots of Ryan’s food to her boyfriend.) Heather had the clams, but sadly I never heard her opinion of them, as it was hard for me to badger virtual strangers for too much info while they were eating, unlike my RR people, whom I assault with questions throughout their meals (and let’s not forget those millions of photos!) I didn’t hear anyone yell out “This food is utter crap” though, so I think people were pretty happy with their first courses.
Second up (which was very possibly two hours after we had arrived,) the soups and salads. The soup was a nice, creamy, sweet onion cauliflower, which looked silky and delicious. Quite a few people selected the now requisite beet salad, this version having golden beats, feta, cucumber and pine nuts (I think, I’m trying to figure this out from my photos, Could be some other crumbly cheese, and zucchini.) I do know the plate was arty, square, and clear glass. In fact, this was another restaurant with tons of fancy, unusual dishware, including those same long rectangular plates that were complained about at Sel Gris. I decided to check out the organic butter lettuce salad with lemon garlic dressing, Spanish anchovies, pumpkin seeds and nicoise olives. I liked the salad well enough, but Heather and I agreed that the anchovies made the whole collaboration incredibly salty (it’s good her website doesn’t mention low salt.) Poor Heather had other commitments on this evening, and probably assumed about two hours would be enough for this dinner, so she unfortunately had to leave right after this course. Ryan had valiantly tried to get the food service moving between the first and second courses when Heather had mentioned she had to leave before long (the waitress mentioned that she thought we had wanted to proceed at a leisurely pace. Leisurely yes, death march-like, no.) Well, even if Heather didn’t get quite as much food as planned on this evening, I know she got plenty of salt after that butter lettuce salad.)
Somewhere in here came my trial by fire, as I had been put in charge of ordering the wine, as there were no attendees with wine blogs, two people were not consuming liquor, two were from California, and I was basically the first Portlander to touch the wine list (and the idea was to try some local wines.) I will never be so foolish to claim much knowledge of wine, (despite being on a couple of those Thanksgiving weekend wine tours where you have a headache at 10:00 am,) but I do know some of the Willamette Valley Wineries, and what’s supposed to be relatively good, so working within Ryan’s general price guidelines, I selected a bottle of white and a bottle of red. As it’s always what I get in white wine, unless a Viognier is available (it was, but I was trying to suit everyone’s tastes,) I selected a nice 2006 Pinot Gris from Adelsheim Winery, certainly a much better quality P.G. than I usually put out for, and which I thought went down very smoothly. Later on we shared a bottle of the Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir, a few bucks above the price Ryan mentioned, but I figured that since we only needed two bottles of wine instead of the four we had originally planned, it wouldn’t totally wreck the budget. The Pinot Noir seemed well received, and I managed to get my glass down without having my esophagus further doily-fied (the reason I stay away from those red vinos,) so I think I did okay, despite the absence of Two Buck Chuck. I must say, Ten 01 employs some BIG HONKIN’ Wine Glasses! I expected some fishies to be lurking at the bottom.
Jen did a nice job of picking entree choices, so we had a poultry, a seafood, and a red meat to select from. Ryan, who proclaimed herself a big chicken fan, had the delicious looking Draper Valley 1/2 chicken, which appeared wonderfully roasted, juicy, and was a nice hearty portion (probably actually half a chicken, as advertised.) She said it was really good, a sentiment perhaps shared by Emily’s boyfriend later, who made out with quite a feast. We had three orders of the Pan Roasted Sea Scallops at the table, which were huge in size, and as one of them belonged to the now gone Heather, everyone enjoyed scallops on this evening (quite well prepared.) Elizabeth and I both succumbed to the earth destroying allure of the beef (those nasty corn munching, flatulent bovines,) in this case a grilled Cascade Natural NY strip with warm fingerling potato salad, braised cippolini and harrisa demiglaise. I know I’ve actually complained over the last three months or so that some of the NY Steaks I had were lacking in flavor, and I must say this was the best preparation of the three (sorry Sel Gris and Tabla.) Basically the thing that put this steak over the top for me with the citrus-like flavor (lemon zest perhaps,) which I’m guessing was part of the harrisa demiglaise. It was also a nice cut, and perfectly prepared, and best of all, although it was a scary $30 on the on-line menu, for once I didn’t pay a cent. (Thank You Foodbuzz.) I also ended up with a really nice and elegant little left-over lunch on Monday, it’s just too bad it was consumed at my ratty desk in front of my computer.
After all the preceding large courses, I think none of us was exactly pining-away for gigantic courses of dessert, but they were included, so we all gave it a whirl (I’m even less likely to turn down free dessert than a free cocktail.) Perhaps because it sounded just too over the top, no one selected the chocolate whiskey cake. If my chocolate chip bread pudding with caramelized bananas, salted caramel ice cream and dark run sauce was any indication of what the whiskey cake was like, it was probably almost overwhelmingly rich enough and sweet enough to kill someone. The bread pudding, which was one of the firmer type versions, was plenty good, and the caramel ice cream and caramelized bananas were yummy, but after everything else, the rum sauce verged on overwhelming, so I could only manage about 1/2 my dessert. The other three people who didn’t have the bread pudding had the somewhat lighter and fruiter sounding trio of sorbets, which came with hazelnut cones and raspberry-rose soup. Considering everyone got three scoops of sorbet, and three adorable hazelnut cone hats, this added up to one sizable dessert as well.
As for Ten 01, although it’s a tad expensive and perhaps glitzy for my tastes, I found it a perfectly decent restaurant. The delivery of food was ridiculous for a group of only seven people, we didn’t get out of there for over 3.5 hours, but the servers were pleasant and generally professional. I certainly liked the food better than that at the constantly over-hyped 23 Hoyt, although I like the space at 23 Hoyt better, aside from the isolating nature of the upstairs eating area. My steak was excellent, and the side dishes were all good, if a tad salty in some cases. The upstairs bathroom cubicles were interesting, with one of the strangest on/off faucet toggle devices I’ve ever seen (I think Ryan said she doused herself with water.) Except for the fact that it seemed like we would never get food between the courses (okay, I know this is an important thing,) I didn’t hear too many complaints from my co-diners about anything. I just wish the Portland turnout had not been so lame, because as I said before, opportunities like this just don’t come along every day, and you really have to make the most of them when they do (and believe me, I did.) So thank you Ryan, Shannon, Jen and Foodbuzz, it was a fun and generous evening, and I enjoyed meeting some of my diverse fellow food bloggers in the process. I hope your next dinner, in Boston, is a great one, and that you get the recognition for your efforts you deserve. (Oh, did I tell you about that class I’m taking, “Brown-Nosing 101?”)