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Growing Pains: Cool concept suffers from a lack of execution at 10 Below 

From the slick, padded walls of the elevator as it takes patrons down below street level to the post-modern, au natural motif - a stylish nod to the Pacific Northwest - 10 Below is one of the sexiest places to dine in Central Oregon right now.

click to enlarge chow_10below.jpg

From the slick, padded walls of the elevator as it takes patrons down below street level to the post-modern, au natural motif - a stylish nod to the Pacific Northwest - 10 Below is one of the sexiest places to dine in Central Oregon right now.

On my first visit in early March, my friend and I began with the Charcuterie. The dish consisted of four or five cheeses, two selections of cured meats, three slices of salami, one ribbon of prosciutto, hardened bread better suited for fondue than a cheese board, and blueberries and strawberries that were out of season. In their place, I would've loved to see some local, seasonal fruit.

For dinner, we shared the miso glazed tuna loin with buckwheat noodles, vegetables and cucumber salad, and a Caesar salad. The tuna was perfectly cooked with noodles dressed properly. The dish was accompanied by ratatouille vegetables and, according to the menu, cucumber salad, which was either lost in the mix or else non-existent. The cucumber salad would have been a nice compliment to the tuna had it been put on top, and shown off while basting in the moist, pink fish. As for the salad, generous portions of romaine hearts, perfectly dressed in a tasty, lemony Caesar with chevre rolled in paprika, crostini, and shaved cheese were complemented by a glass of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay.

For dessert, the Chocolate-Hazlenut Dacquoise came with a tableside pour of espresso over vanilla ice cream and dacquoise; simple, rich and perfectly portioned.

My next visit occurred on a Friday afternoon during the awkward transition between day and night shifts, an Achilles heel for some bars because bartenders typically begin their shifts at 3 p.m. We were handed the cocktail list and ordered two drinks from the Orblist, so named because the cocktails are said to arrive in frozen spherical ice orbs. Fifteen minutes passed with only one other patron in the bar. The two girls behind the bar, one of them our waitress, busied themselves guessing ingredients and swirling shakers self-consciously. Finally, the waitress delivered our orb-less cocktails. According to our waitress, the drinks come in orbs, but only at night; a daytime bartender might alleviate this discrepancy. My ginger-cucumber martini had a gingery bite, but the cranberry juice overpowered the more subtle cucumber flavor. The Basil Hound tasted like grapefruit juice on ice. Presumably, the scheduled bartender executes drinks better.

My final visit occurred on a Sunday morning. The breakfast menu consisted of fruit and pastries, entrees, and brunch offerings. There was a $26 prix fixe brunch, but the offerings were unclear. We ordered brioche French toast, the herb and goat cheese omelet, and two eggs poached with tri-colored potatoes and veggie sausage. After a long wait the plates arrived. The brioche tasted delicious with warm berry sauce and a subtle flavor of vanilla and the right doughy/crispy balance. In contrast, the omelet appeared unimpressively flat and visibly dry; a few bites confirmed our disappointment. The omelet was rubbery and instead of goat cheese there appeared to be a small portion of un-melted shredded cheese inside. The omelet was served with a side of purple, gold and sweet potatoes that were delicious. The two egg plate was presented with a side of bacon, a sign that communication between the kitchen and server was lacking. The waitress returned quickly with the veggie sausage and a plate of toast, asking if we would like the kitchen to remake the plate. The thick-cut bacon, which actually went well between bites of the brioche, was cool with us, whereas the veggie patty tasted pre-packaged. The rustic toast, on the other hand, was crusty and chewy, an excellent accompaniment to the poached eggs.

While 10 Below has the look and feel of an established restaurant, it's still in its infancy, so the problems I encountered on each visit can be attributed to inexperience. Still, the front of the house staff needs to familiarize itself with the menu. Likewise, the kitchen can't rely on scattershot execution if 10 Below hopes to distinguish itself from the many other quality dining options in downtown Bend. Image will never carry a restaurant - that takes quality of food, drinks, and service.

10 Below at the Oxford Hotel

10 NW Minnesota Ave. 541-382-8436. Breakfast and lunch daily. Dinner and lounge: 4:00pm-Close


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