Monthly Archives: October 2015

Five Fifty-five – The Number of the Feast

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Throughout history, there have been many important three-digit combinations. Agent 007 was a famous fictional British secret service operative, the number 666 is oft referred to as “the number of the beast” and associated with satanic concepts,  and just 111 from that is the more saintly 555 Congress St., home of the aptly named Five Fifty-five restaurant. While I regularly get my fix of 007 movies and music some might consider satanic, it had been about three years since I visited Five Fifty-five for some fine cuisine.

Having been to the well-established and highly recognized restaurant a few times, but not recently, I was excited to see what changes Five Fifty-five might have made to their menu. I remembered fondly certain items I used to order. Were they still available? I was about to find out. We got there a few minutes early for our reservations and were promptly seated at a premium round table by the window. Upon reviewing the menus, my wife almost immediately exclaimed that she knew exactly what she wanted for every course and her drink. I was a little more uncertain.

The restaurant’s drink menu is enormous, specifically the huge, award-winning wine selection. With a quick scan of the wines, I noted prices as high as $1500. I considered ordering that one as I’m sure it would have made for a better story with the inevitable divorce that would have resulted from it, but unfortunately it wasn’t going to be that type of evening. Nonetheless, I wasn’t really looking for wine anyway; I wanted a cocktail. My wife had long since decided on the Autumn Sangria with local seasonal fruit when she convinced me to go with the signature Perfect Manhattan – Maker’s Mark, vermouth, bitters, lemon. I ordered it, specifying that I wanted the bar to make sure it was truly perfect.

Drinks were on order and I was pressed to hurry up and discuss food with Mrs. Portlandeater. She told me what she was ordering and I considered all my options. While I was trying to finalize my decision, she suggested I go all out on the food, presumably because the cost of my drink order was far south of the wines I was – only jokingly, of course – considering. And so I made my final decisions just as the drinks made their way to our table. We placed our food orders with the waiter and got to sipping.

My Manhattan exhibited the typical visual properties of the standard except that it held within it a lemon peel instead of the usual cherry. I tried a sip of the whiskey wonder. When it hit my lips, it had that great taste I was familiar with, but on the way down, it was insanely smooth  to the point that I was concerned I was drinking some sort of whiskey imposter. I don’t usually order my ‘hattans perfect – half sweet/half dry vermouth – but it was so good that I might start. With no proof of any shenanigans, I savored the delicious drink. I heard no complaints from my beautiful counterpart regarding the sangria.

While waiting for the first course of food, we were brought a bite from the chef to taste. I cannot recall exactly what it was, but it involved some sort of bread with some salmon spread and other toppings. I’m not much for salmon, but it was pretty damn good. Shortly after that, we received some biscuits and focaccia with chive butter and nibbled on those. They were great and we were starting to feel the glow of food-borne happiness as we prepared for our initial courses.

Right as we began discussing malapropisms and palindromes to pass the time, we received the first part of out food orders. For her, it was the Stonecipher Farm’s Pumpkin Soup – pickled blueberries, mascarpone, celery puree, toasted pepitas. I had ordered the Grilled Caesar – garlicky dressing, peppered croutons – hold the white anchovies. The grilled Caesar was once a thing of mystery to me. My first visit there and first look at the menu made me question if the word “chicken” had been mistakenly left out, but it turns out there is no chicken. The salad itself – the romaine – is actually grilled just a bit. That grilling lends a slight charred flavor to the salad which takes it’s name from creator Caesar Cardini.

With my first glimpse of the salad, I saw was a bit different than when I last ate it – a square block of grilled romaine topped with some dressing and a layer of shaved parm. Set about the plate were croutons and pepper. I tried my first bite. It was as I remembered. The salad itself was utterly delicious, and the grilling took it up a huge notch. I have no idea where the idea came to grill a salad, but every time I eat that one it makes me think all salads should be grilled. The salad and all it’s components were delicious. I did think it could use more substantial croutons than the tiny ones provided, but it was hardly and issue because the salad is just so good. Again, I heard nary a word from my lil miss as she consumed her soup.

Soon our plates were very empty and I was fully primed for maximum consumtion. Prior to entertaining my entree, I was ready for an additional course of cheese I had requested. I went with one of my favorites – sheep’s Manchego from Spain which came with cranberry compote, mixed nut brittle, crostini, and some wildflower honey drizzle. The wedge of cheese stood on the plate with its narrow edge looking up to the sky like an edible blade of dairy delight. The cheese was excellent as I expected and I found it’s accompaniments particularly delicious too. Sheep’s cheese tends to be a little stronger and more flavorful than cow or goat cheese and this fit the bill.

Finished dancing in a ballet of manchego magnificence, we awaited our large plates. I spied some coming from the corner of my eye and only moments later we had a good-looking duo of food at the table. She had Five Fifty-five’s signature dish – Truffled Lobster “Mac & Cheese” – butter-poached maine lobster, artisanal cheese blend, white truffle oil, black truffles. I had considered that, but ended up with Seared Sea Scallops – sunchoke puree, maitake mushrooms, shaved lomo, braised mustard seeds.

I was pleased to have a plate in front of me which was clearly plate full of goodness. In addition to all the meal parts listed on the menu, there were what appeared to be and tasted like tiny potato chips and also some sort of actual potato. I thought to ask what the chips were, but I was afraid they might be something like shaved duck testicles and decided it was just better to eat them without additional information. After trying the mini-chips, I went straight for a piece of scallop. I was so ready for the little fish disk that my head involuntarily lunged forward to my fork before I could get my hand to my mouth. Nearly ingesting part of my fork with it, I tasted the perfectly seared scallop which was great.  Next up was a piece with lomo aka dry cured pork. The combination of little sea swimmer and swine was excellent, but the pork would have been too sweet on its own. As part of the scallop bite, it was perfect as were the other tastes on the plate. Mustard seed always seems to go well with scallops and mushrooms go well with pretty much anything. Though it was different than the scallops they offered last I was there, they were still a winning dish.

Mrs. Portlandeater seemed pleased with the lob-mac and fortunately for me, her appetite expired before her meal did. I dove into her remnants at full speed, digging up the last bites of lobster and pasta. The meal was even better than I remembered it. The lobster put a stamp on what was already an utterly stunning display of culinary awesome. Truffle and lots of cheese gave unbelievable flavor to the meal and every bite was to die for. It is their most famous dish for a reason – its magical taste.

After such a hearty, satisfying meal, we lost the ability to consume a dessert, though we seriously considered the Bananas Foster Cheesecake. It would have been too much though and likely would have forced us to unbuckle our belts and unbutton our pants. We saved ourselves the hassle and upset stomachs and checked out gracefully, though we were given some sort of jellied pear treat of which we each took a single bite.

Five Fifty-five isn’t cheap; our meal came to almost $130 before tip, but they definitely provide some solid fine dining in a pretty relaxed atmosphere. Owners Steve and Michelle Corry have won numerous awards and also own another restaurant which I’ve previously reviewed and a new pastry joint, so they know what they are doing and our meal experience proved that. They have a great bar/lounge area that is pretty fun and also serve brunch on Sunday if you’re more prone to late morning and early afternoon restaurant visits. Whatever you prefer, Five Fifty-five is a must try if you want to enjoy some of the more angelic, finer tastes in Portland.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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Tuscan Grill – Putting the “It” in Italian

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Somewhere in a land far, far away is a place called Freeport, and last Saturday night my wife and I decided to get crazy and go there. We visited a bunch of stores including one famous for it’s waterproof boots and customer satisfaction guarantees. But we weren’t there just to browse at the multitude of stores filled with both Mainers and out-of-staters, we were there to consume some food and maybe a beverage or two. Fortunately, we were well prepared for that because earlier in the day, my wife took advantage of the one available reservation remaining at Tuscan Grill, just barely a stones throw from those previously mentioned stores.

The interior of Tuscan Grill was very nice. The restaurant was quite large with a beautiful bar, open kitchen/brick oven, and lots of table seating. There was outside seating, though I’m pretty sure it isn’t used this time of year. We were there early and there was still a bit of a crowd, so I immediately got the impression that it was quite popular. My wife had been there previously and insisted that it was good, so I was eager to try it and hoped that my experience would be as pleasant as hers was. Only time would tell.

As soon as we were seated we got to the menus. I had looked at them somewhat prior to arriving, so I had an idea what I wanted to drink. When the waitress came, she dropped off the bread, poured some olive oil, ground some pepper into it, and gave us the list of specials. Then she asked us what we wanted to drink. I ordered the  Mainehattan – house infused blueberry Makers Mark whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and whiskey soaked blueberries. My wifette went with the House Made Cranberry Orange Sangria – fresh apples, oranges, cranberries, maine wildflower honey, orange liquor, club soda, cabernet and garnished with fresh fruit.

Because I had learned from the mistakes of my last restaurant experience, I went in to Tuscan Grill underfed, so by the time the waitress walked away with our drink orders, I was ravenous. I quickly threw some bread and seasoned oil into my mouth while discussing the food with Mrs. Portlandeater. I was hoping for some wings, but my wife wanted to share a salad. I considered that option and then looked at all the pizza, pasta, and entree options. I hadn’t eaten pizza in a while, so I was leaning toward that and so was she. After some review, I decided that the pizzas in which I was most interested were sans meat. Adding a salad for my app would leave me a full night of meatlessness which sounded sad to my omnivore brain.

We both struggled a bit with our choices but when the waitress came back with our drinks, we were ready to order some food. As a compromise for the salad as our app, I proposed a family-sized Caesar – romaine, radicchio, creamy house dressing, croutons, shaved pecorino romano and white anchovy – with chicken added and she agreed. However, the waitress suggested just a standard salad since the family size was enormous. I reluctantly accepted and we put a hold on the anchovies at the same time. For the pizza, I went with the Funghi – alfredo sauce, three shrooms, four cheeses, thyme, sweet onions. She ordered the Local Harvest – three cheeses, caramelized sweet onion jam, roasted butternut squash, cranberries, sage, arugula, balsamico & toasted pumpkin seeds.

I was overly excited to get my food, but we had drinks right in front of us, so I temporarily settled for that. Mine was blue…very blue, so I naturally assumed that there was a truckload of blueberry flavor attached to my stately cocktail. Upon actually putting the drink to my mouth and sipping it, I realized my thoughts were erroneous as the blueberry added but a hint of flavor and the whiskey performed it’s typical Manhattan occupation of kicking the drinker right in the skull. This thing was strong and the blueberry only a side note. I liked it – it wasn’t quite what I expected, but I love whisky, so it was good with me. My wife’s libation was pink with lemon, lime, and cranberries garnishing it.

After a bit of a wait, we got our salad. The single serving was indeed bigger than I expected. We doled it out to ourselves on small plates and went to work. The salad was good and the chicken very well seasoned. I felt the dressing was a little weak, but not bad, and overall, I was quite pleased. We ate like ravenous hippos and worked on the salad until it disappeared like a reverse rabbit in a hat. With salad in our bellies, we anxiously awaited the pizza.

It was a little bit longer wait than I hoped for the pies, though we received a couple updates during the waiting period. When it finally showed up however, the waitress offered me a new one because mine was only the slightest bit burnt. I actually like it like that so it was fine with me, but there are probably some people that would have taken the offer as the edges were a little black from the brick oven. Nonetheless, I was ready to dig into my circle of cheese-covered crust.

Before I could take my first bite, I had to let my pizza cool down. It was hotter than a Brazilian supermodel in the Sahara. My pizza honestly didn’t look like much because the toppings and cheese didn’t add any color. After a couple minutes, I was ready to try it regardless of what it looked like or whether or not it would melt my face. I took a bite. It was really, really delicious. There was lots of cheese and mushrooms, so it was obviously going to be good, but the onions added some great flavor too. It was a great pizza. I tried my wife’s and that one was also excellent, though I thought mine was better.

The pizza went down the hatch smoother than liquor on an ice luge and I finished both mine and the remainder of hers. I had some space left inside me and I was interested in seeing the selection of sweets. With dessert menus in hand, I only saw one that I really warmed my heart; it was the Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake – vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit, hot fudge drizzle. I’m a sucker for peanut butter and that was all I needed to see. We ordered one of those to share and got ready to do the peanut butter shuffle.

Desert arrived reasonably quickly. The chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting was all I cared about. Though it was presented with ice cream and whipped cream on either side and fudge drizzle all over the plate, those were but afterthoughts to me. I forked a piece over to my mouth. It was great, particularly the frosting which was heavy on the peanut butter. I ate a little of the creams, but focused on inhaling the moderately dense cake and thick frosting which was finished in hardly a minute. Once that was done, we were done and ready to head out.

When the meal was complete, we were out $87 with tax and tip. The food was quite good. We had a bit of a long wait for the pizzas, but they were delicious and quite unique. The drinks, salad, and dessert were all tasty and other than the delay, the service was on point. I would definitely visit Tuscan Grill again in the future. They definitely get busy though, so you might expect the service to be a little slow, but the food holds up and the atmosphere is beautiful. If you’re in Freeport, make it one of your stops.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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The Treehouse – Climb Up, Eat, and Leaf

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“If I eat another thing, I’m going to explode like a cartoon or maybe pass out,” I thought to myself. I had eaten a lot that day…food truck food, other restaurant food, and I had plans to eat dessert elsewhere. I had indeed made a fatal flaw in the food blogging world – I went into a meal low on hunger because I had eaten too much earlier. I had mistaken my proverbial bottomless pit for an actual bottomless pit. I don’t make that mistake much, but I did at The Treehouse and I was a disappointment to myself. Nonetheless, I was able to get a thorough look and taste of the restaurant before falling into the trap of the full belly.

The Treehouse on Stevens Ave. was previously known as The Cafe until early in the current year. While I’m told the menu hasn’t changed much, I had never been to the location under any name, so it was all new to me. We climbed up the stairs to get to the second floor restaurant above Pat’s Meat Market where we met some friends who were there with drinks already. Mrs. Portlandeater and I quickly grabbed drink menus and chose some libations. I felt that the Starboard Cosmo with Absolut Citron, peach puree, white cranberry juice, and fresh lime would suit me just fine. Sure it had a feminine name, but I had no shame; it had ingredients I loved. My wife chose the slightly more masculine Sirens Sangria – house-made sangria, red wine, Cointreau, brandy, seasonal fruit, rosemary.

In between catching up with our comrades, we discussed some food options. I ruled out the salad and flatbread sections of the menu. I was feeling a potential appetizer and definitely an entree. At some point, the waitress delivered our drinks and went over the specials of the night. There were quite a few and a couple of them sounded pretty strong. I took a sip of my girly drink to help contemplate my options. It was delicious. How could it not have been? It was a combination of great ingredients. Fruity? Check. Garnished with a single cranberry? Check. Delicious? Check. I was told the sangria was good too and the sprig of rosemary gave our side of the table a bit of an herbalicious odor.

While sipping my Cosmo with a pinkie in the air, the waitress came to get our orders. I had decided on a special North Atlantic Scallops in a dish of phyllo dough with mushrooms, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, and a side of Romano mashed potatoes. That sounded outstanding. My wife went with the Baked Stuffed Haddock special with crumbs, crab, and also the side of romano mash. Another order of the haddock and a grilled tenderloin rounded out the orders and we decided to throw in an appetizer to share at the last minute. We chose the Ravioli Crisps – sauteed shallot, garlic and walnut tossed with spinach, creme fraiche and lemon.

During the intermission between placing our orders and actually receiving food, we had time to chat and soak in the atmosphere. The restaurant, though dark, is really warm and beautiful. There are wooden beams throughout and decorative greenery and lighting adorn them giving the restaurant the appropriate treehouse feel. The separate lounge area has a very inviting bar and seating area. The darkness definitely works well with the atmosphere and the restaurant would be very good for a romantic dinner for two. We weren’t doing that, but it was still very nice.

The ravioli came out in all it’s crispy glory. I could smell the heavy garlic from across the table. It had to be good. I took one and shared with Mrs. Portlandeater. Yum! I loved that it was crispy with lots of delicious garlic flavor. The spinach was just tossed in and therefore not really cooked which was perfect, and the sauce was delicious. This was a winner. I savored every bite of the crispy garlic pasta pillows and noted that this would probably be best in multiple orders. There were three on the plate but I wanted to eat more, more, more! Unfortunately, I was about to realize that would not have been possible.

Post-ravioli, we got a basket of bread. I was just starting to realize my fullness by that point and avoided it. A few minutes later, our meals came out. It was dark, so they were difficult to see, but my scallops were “open faced” with the dough pinched around them. I was told there would be about three, but it seemed more like five of the delicious ocean dwellers. I was ready to go at them with full force. I grabbed my fork and knife and went to work. Cutting a piece of scallop and dough and trying to get plenty of cheese , mushroom, and onion, I shoveled a piece into my mouth. It was really, really good. The flavors were absolutely perfect together. The crispy dough worked as a brilliant housing and the bite included tons of cheesy flavor without overpowering the scallop. Magnificent!

After a bite or two of the main course, I tried the romano mashed. I like pretty much anything potato, but these were extra-good – slightly cheesy, slightly buttery, and with fluffy mashed texture. My meal also came with a grilled zucchini which was excellent. I worked on my food as though it was my job and about half way through I started to fade. I ate one scallop and then another until they were done, finished about half of the rest of my meal, and then all that food I had eaten earlier in the day came back to haunt me. I submitted. It was just too much. I realized I had made a terrible miscalculation and that I would not be able to finish what was turning out to be an utterly delicious meal. I had failed myself.

Despite my mistake, I can definitively say that The Treehouse makes some great food. The drinks were very good, the baked haddock seemed to be loved, and my meal was outstanding. The grilled tenderloin got a moderate response, but it’s accompanying acts were lauded as top notch. Overall, this place hit the bullseye. The cost for Mrs. Portlandeater and I came to about $87 after tip which I would have been really happy with had I been able to finish it all. This is unquestionably a place you should add to your list. It’s in an area we don’t get to much, but it’s worth making the visit. Just don’t eat first!

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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