10below at The Oxford Hotel
Very inconsistent preparation; steak and duckling dinners were best.
Kitchen can be so slow in filling orders, it’s easy to overlook good servers.
Artistically eclectic, with abstract upholstery and unusual colors.
Location: 10 NW Minnesota Ave. (lower level of The Oxford Hotel, Bend)
Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Price range: Breakfast $7 to $18; lunch $7 to $18; dinner starters $7 to $16, entrees $24 to $39
Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Kids’ menu: Yes
Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Roasted garlic-wild mushroom custard ($24) is a gourmet choice
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Outdoor seating: No
Contact: oxfordhotelbend.com/the-kitchen.htm, 541-382-1010
When Albert Hall — the chef, not the British royal concert venue — took over the kitchen in September at 10below, The Oxford Hotel’s lower-level restaurant, he came armed with majestic ideas.
Previously the owner-chef at Tucson’s popular Acacia Real Food & Cocktails for 11 years, Hall declared upon his arrival that “The revolution is here!” In a YouTube video with a link from the restaurant’s website, he talked about using “natural, organic food” as a devotee of the movement toward locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.
That’s all well and good, even if the trend is hardly revolutionary in 2017. Perhaps Arizona only recently leapt onto the farm-to-fork bandwagon that began two decades ago in the Pacific Northwest. But give the Oxford credit for acknowledging, on its menu, nearly two dozen area food and beverage providers.
Even with the infusion of new energy, however, 10below continues to be plagued by inconsistency in food preparation and service. In recent weeks, at a lunch, dinner and breakfast, my dining companion and I were regularly disappointed in our experiences. The ups and downs of each meal were as varied as the restaurant’s very eclectic decor.
Eclectic? Yes, indeed. The dining room, when packed, seats about 50 diners at tables and booths upholstered in multiple abstract patterns of black and white. The artistic expression carries onto the walls, but not so far as the floorboards on the ceiling. The decor turns to lime green in the adjoining lounge area, where a fire blazes on a TV screen and lamps hang like ink stamps over two dozen more chairs.
Lunchtime service was excruciatingly slow, even though a mere three tables were occupied and the barkeep had departed early on her afternoon break. The kitchen needed a full half-hour to deliver our first course. The grilled half artichoke, served with white-truffle aioli, was so heavily drizzled with sticky balsamic vinegar, it discouraged eating the leaves with fingers. (But how else can you eat an artichoke?)
We also selected steamed dumplings, a sort of cross between Chinese dim sum and Asian pot stickers. I liked the filling of minced chicken with carrot and onion, but the wonton skins were chewy, and the sides of wasabi and pickled ginger, normally reserved for sushi, didn’t really suit the dish.
As a main course, my companion ordered a trio of fish tacos that were initially delivered to the wrong table. Crispy-battered, Baja-style fish were folded into corn tortillas with cabbage, avocado and chipotle creams, pico de gallo and salsa. My friend deemed them satisfactory.
Not so, however, for my bowl of onion soup gratinée. A combination of beef and chicken broths, three kinds of onions and a toasty crouton, it might have been good — but the Swiss and Parmesan cheeses that topped it were severely burned. Not only should the kitchen have never sent it out; the server should have rejected it at first glance.
To the restaurant’s credit, with no knowledge that we were reviewing, 10below’s manager paid for our meal and asked us to please give them another try.
Dinner wasn’t perfect, but it was better. In a far-from-full dining room, the hostess offered a table next to a loud and animated group, but we chose to be reseated in a quieter spot. We sent back a basket of stale focaccia; a replacement order was much better. My first two wine choices from the beverage menu were sold out or unavailable.
But we enjoyed the food, beginning with a hearts of romaine salad, 10below’s answer to a classic Caesar. The lettuce leaves were fresh and crisp, the red chile-and-sage croutons were made in-house, a Parmesan tuile was delicious and the dressing, a creamy lemon-garlic vinaigrette, featured a touch of mustard.
My friend’s charbroiled filet mignon, served in a shallot-mushroom demi-glace, was perfectly cooked, medium rare. The potatoes gratin were a little undercooked, but other vegetables, including lightly grilled asparagus and heirloom carrots, were perfect.
I had the same veggies with my maple wood-smoked duckling breast, a generous portion of which was sliced and drizzled with a gastrique of blueberries and balsamic vinegar. It was presented with a delicious risotto mixed with scallions and served with mascarpone and grated Parmesan.
But while dinner helped to restore our confidence in 10below, breakfast was a step backward — even though our morning coffee was served with tiny pitchers of freshly steamed milk, and my friend’s pancake side order came with real maple syrup.
The two poached eggs in my Florentine Benedict (served on baby spinach and an English muffin with roasted fingerling potatoes) were undercooked and runny. While I didn’t really mind the exuberant if unexpected sprinkle of cayenne on the choron hollandaise sauce, a side of plum tomatoes were covered with so much crushed garlic as to make them unpleasant.
My salmon-loving companion found the house-smoked sockeye in her breakfast scramble so fishy-tasting and objectionable, she sent it back after two bites. In its place, she got a build-your-own omelet with bacon, cheese and vegetables that was delivered from the kitchen in less than five minutes, faster than any other plate we’d ordered here.
With time and staff training (some servers already are excellent), I’m sure Chef Hall will turn things around at 10below. He’s got too much top-level experience in the business not to make that happen. For now, however, the Oxford’s restaurant offers more potential than accomplishment.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at email@example.com .