Monday February 18, 2013 | 01:00 AM

What an adventure those chef tasting menus were when they came into vogue some 20 years ago.  They still work but only when they’re focused and fresh. Otherwise  it's the chef who remains haplessly proud and diners are left overfed, belching to the beat of  culinary excess.

Nowadays, with some exception, I still find them trying.  With so many creative chefs in our midst they needn’t wow us anymore with wondrous menus of manifold courses and wine flights.  Just gives us three great dishes or even multiple small plates and call it a night.

This past Valentine’s Day, however, I found myself unexpectedly navigating a chef’s tasting menu prepared  specially for that day.

To avoid the Valentine's crush I didn't plan on eating out.  But at the last minute we changed our minds to join a city  awash with love birds who had booked every table in town.  This was not an eveneng catering to procrastinators.

I took a chance, though, and called co-proprietor Michelle Corry of Five Fifty-five to see if she could fit us in.

What luck!  In a few minutes we found ourselves at two corner seats at the bar  admidst the crush of other diners there to feast on a lavish prix fixe menu.

 
I would have been content to have a simple meal out.  But after ordering cocktails we were presented with a two-page  menu marked Valentine’s Day 2013 that offered five  serious  courses.

OK. There are exceptions to the eccentricities of tasting menus.  When they're good they're great.

This one put on by Chef Steve Corry and his team  was one helluva dinner.

 Herewith, in photo essay format, is the Anatomy of a  Fabulously Fine Meal.


(Note these photos are not as vivid as they might have been. Since I wasn’t planning on a digital capture of this dinner I left my good camera at home.  What you see are iPhone photos from an older model that definitely needs replacement. )


Silkly smooth and rich, Maine peekytoe crab bisque with lemon-creme fraiche and jalapeno gel was a luxurious starter

 

This highly imaginative second course featured both wild Maine and Gulf shrimp with a cilantro emulsion, pickled shallots and a mild curry sauce, a beautiful followup to the first course

There were several main-course choices but I chose the rack of American lamb, which was incredibly tender, cooked  perfectly pink  and served with rosemary-scented white beans, Merrymeeting Farm carrots and caramelized brussels sprouts

The cheese course included  a Vermont cheddar and a   triple creme from France, Delice de Bourgogne,  served with crostini, a house-made fruit preserve and spiced candied nuts; a coconut sorbet with passion fruit foam was an alternate choice

The dessert was a 5-layer  vanilla chiffon cake--just the right serving size--with a hazelnut butter cold caramel cream and praline nuts.

 

 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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