There are things to like about Five Fifty-Five in Portland, like dollar-fify-five oysters on Thursdays; welcoming and friendly bartenders; and the blueberry salad, a wonderfully balanced dish with peppery arugula and crunchy pistachios. Then there are things not to like, like long waits from the wine cellar; a heavy hand with French-style sauces; and the suckling pig cracklin’s that come with the “three little pigs” dish, which are so hard and crunchy that Greg thought he was eating glass.
Chef-owner Steve Corry was named best new chef by Food & Wine in 2007, and has garnered numerous accolades since. And our evening, despite the crackin’s, was really fun — especially chatting with our neighbor (who ordered the lobster mac & cheese; I was envious), and enjoying our oysters and appetizers. And like I said, our bartenders made the night.
We started, naturally, with cocktails.
Greg was still on his martinin jag, and I went for a caipirinha:
We were lucky to get our seats when we did. About 10 minutes after we arrived, the whole bar was full:
A nice basket of bread. Chive biscuits I believe:
And herbed butter:
So far, we have kept our promise to ourselves of having oysters every day during our trip to Maine. These were from Damariscotta, too, and they were very good, but not as good as King Eider’s Pub.
Doesn’t mean we didn’t slurp away:
We ordered a bottle of wine — I can’t remember what — and it took so long I swear they ran to the liquor store to get it. It was also pretty warm, which makes me think my theory could be true.
I don’t blame our bartender. She was fab.
For his app, Greg went with the mussels:
Bangs Island Mussels, 555 Cherry Pepper, Golden-Chive Garlic Butter, Crunchy Bread for Dipping:
Exceptional. Super-fresh, plump and great broth for sopping, too. We both loved them.
Here’s the Maine Wild Blueberry Salad, which I will order again and again and try to recreate in my own home, too:
Tiny little leaves of arugula, young and peppery without being woody or bitter. Blueberries so sweet they burst in your mouth to leave a pool of syrup on your tongue. Salty, crunchy, meaty pistachios. Creamy fresh ricotta with a hint of lemony citrus shining through, and a subtle champagne vinaigrette that just moistened the leaves. Swear it was one of the best dishes on the whole trip.
We follow that up with a ill-timed dish from the kitchen: our amuse-bouche:
I’m not sure why they sent this out after our appetizers. And I can’t remember what either of these were, but they were cold and hard. Unfortunately, this is a sign of things to come.
Here’s Greg’s Three Little Pigs: Slowly Cooked Center-Cut Pork Pork Chop, 555 Smoked Pork Belly-Studded Heirloom Baked Beans, Suckling Pig Cracklin’s, Farmers Market Slaw, Maple Mustard Glaze:
The dish was tasty enough, if a little over-thought and over-sauced. But when Greg took a bite of the slaw, he suddenly got a horrified look on his face and stopped chewing. His food was so crunchy it was impenetrable. He thought a piece of glass had accidentally got mixed in the plate.
The very kind bartender looked concerned, but then disappeared. He brought back a bread plate with a few of the cracklin’s sprinkled on it. “Is this what you were tasting?” he asked.
Greg took a bit in his mouth — and yes, that was what he was tasting. Or rather trying to.
The crisis was averted, but we decided that if your cracklin’s are so hard they won’t break when you chew them, then they’re too hard. Who wants to crack a tooth on a cracklin’?
Here was my entree. Pan-Seared, Pepper-Crusted Local Diver Scallops with Aromatic Whipped Fennel Potatoes and Baby Carrot Vanilla Emulsion:
There was so much pepper on the scallops that it obscured their sweetness. But don’t worry about sweetness in the dish. The vanilla was so overwhelming that it was all I could taste, even in the potatoes. . Even though the scallops were cooked well — I could tell because the texture was springy — the balance on this was way off.
At this point, I take a peek around the restaurant. There’s an open kitchen —
— which must add to the buzz in the dining room:
People are having fun.
As I head back, I’m trying to remember my amazing blueberry salad as we think about dessert. But I’ve kind of had it with sweets, so we decide to go for some local cheeses.
We go for the Townhouse Farm Ballstown from Whitefield Maine, the Shelburne Farms Cheddar from Shelburne, Vermont, and the Consider Bardwell Farm, Dorset, from Pawlet, Vermont:
Unfortunately, the hard cheeses had stale edges on them, even toward the middle of the slices, which made it difficult to enjoy the texture.
So all in all, half good, half not so good. If I had to to do over again, I would have ordered another small plate, or maybe gone for that enviable mac and cheese.
But one thing’s for sure: I will never forget that blueberry salad.
The 411 on Five Fifty-Five: 555 Congress St., Portland, Maine. 207-761-0555. fivefifty-five.com.