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.
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