After Matt and I downed our drinks and cleared our charcuterie board, we bundled back up and braved the cold for a brisk, three-block walk to Ten 01, the next spot on our happy-hour trail.
Of all the places on our list, this menu held the most promise.
First order of business: drinks. Matt took a break from spirits with a pint of draft beer; I opted to stick with the brown stuff and went with a Manhattan.
I was glad I did, too—the bartender delivered one of the best versions of this drink I’ve had to date, a beautifully, perfectly balanced blend of bourbon, Italian vermouth and bitters, and easy on the eye, to boot.
Shortly after our beverages were so lovingly deposited on the bar in front of us, they were joined by an icy plate of oysters ($1 each), swimming in their own liquor and just begging to be slurped down at warp speed. We topped each one a squeeze of lemon and a dab of cranberry mignonette and, in an effort to pace ourselves, tried not to inhale. It was a failed attempt: Each shell held a bivalve of impeccable freshness and flavor, the brininess of both meat and liquid complemented by the tart-yet-sweet mignonette and the bracingly acidic citrus. I ate one before taking the above picture and had to remind myself to stop and snap a photo before we had nothing but empties left.
The seafood had treated us well up to that point, so we continued in the same vein with an order of charred octopus ($8). Octopus isn’t the most common thing to find when dining out, but, when it’s on the menu, I’m hard-pressed not to try it; I’m always curious to see how it’s handled by a chef who knows what he or she is doing, thanks in part to the trouble I had figuring out how to cook the beast when I attempted it myself nearly a year ago. This version didn’t disappoint: True to its billing, the exterior was nicely charred, the interior just chewy enough to remind you that you were, in fact, eating octopus. We meticulously compiled each bite so that it included all elements of the dish—toasted baguette, sofrito, and niçoise-olive-and-lemon gremolata—and, dragging our forks through the smear of accompanying parsley oil, were pretty happy with the results. The only thing we missed was a touch more acidity, but, as it was, we cleaned the plate.
Our next dish was a pleasant surprise—maybe because we were taking pictures of our food, or maybe because we’d opted to try the majority of the menu, the kitchen kindly sent out a complementary serving of smoked beef carpaccio ($6). The gesture was made twice as nice because Matt, in his infinite wisdom, had stopped me from ordering it earlier (he figured five dishes were enough—ha!), and, thrilled to be presented with the opportunity to sample it for free, we went at the perfectly composed plate with gusto. The beef was meltingly tender and delicately flavored—for the most part, I opted to eat it on its own to get the full impact, but it was also stellar with a bit of that cool horseradish mousse, followed by the palate-cleansing crunch of frisee and celery.
The special that day was fried sweetbreads, and, in light of my newfound bravery regarding offal, we decided to give it a shot. Fried to a crisp and served with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce (made of honey and Banyuls vinegar, plus a little bit of the meat’s cooking jus), this turned out to be Matt’s favorite dish of the evening; while I loved the flavors as a whole, underneath that addictive coating the texture of the sweetbreads was just a touch too mealy for me. A complaint that didn’t stop me from finishing my half, I’ll have you know.
Next out was the house-made smoked andouille sausage, with a fried egg, caramelized cabbage, and creamy polenta. (This wasn’t a veg-heavy meal, obviously.) Similar in concept to a French choucroute garnie or a Polish or German sausage with sauerkraut, this iteration was well-executed, but lacked that little something that would’ve taken it from good to great. It might have been my own fault, power of suggestion and all: I judged the last ingredient by its appearance, conveniently forgetting the specifics noted on the menu, and expected to be eating mustard, not polenta. Much like when you anticipate the taste of Sprite but get a mouthful of seltzer instead, disappointment ensued. Each element of the dish was rich, heavy; I craved the cutting astringency of a quality mustard.
Now, someone of both normal appetite and sense of restraint would’ve stopped there, but I wanted to end our meal on a high note and sneakily waited until Matt was in the restroom to add one more item our order. Though he feigned annoyance, he forgave me with his first bite of chicken liver mousse ($6): decadent, earthy (though not quite as funky as I would’ve liked) and full-flavored, we quickly ran out of the accompanying grilled bread and fig jam. Rather than ask for more, we opted to eat it by the spoonful, scraping the glass clean in the process.
With that, we felt suitably armed to face the chilly December evening, the crush of First Friday gallery madness. Fearing the worst, we asked for our bill; neither of us wanted to see the damage, but, in another positive twist, our total was unexpectedly low—an amazing value for what we consumed. Happy endings, indeed.
1001 NW Couch Street