Editor’s note: An incomplete version of this review was inadvertently posted last Sunday.

I spend a lot of time with college professors. When I hear them complain about how hard it is to work in a “publish or perish” system, cranking out articles and books until they earn the permanent job security of tenure, I smile inwardly. They have no idea how bad it could be.

For restaurateurs, the pressure appears similar – every month (or more) they have to create new menus, refresh their dining spaces, perfect dishes and come up with a thousand creative ways to beguile a fickle public. But there is no such thing as tenure for a restaurant, no safe harbor where they can relax and coast on previous successes, especially in a city like Portland, where competition has grown fierce. A restaurant must always invent, reinvent, promote, and then rinse and repeat. It never stops.

For an upscale establishment like Five Fifty-Five, where diners spend significant amounts of money for a meal, the pressure is even more intense. When he and his wife Michelle opened the restaurant in 2003, chef and co-owner Steve Corry found very little competition in the category and quickly built a loyal following. Along the way, they scored some seriously impressive accolades for their local, seasonal dishes, including a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef award in 2007.

Some signature plates, like the truffled lobster “mac & cheese” ($33) have been on the menu for more than a decade. In her 41/2 star review from 2012, our then reviewer called the dish “legendary,” with a clever blending of homey and luxe components. On one recent visit, we were wowed by another stalwart, the simple, yet exceedingly good striploin ($34), cooked precisely to medium-rare and daubed with a lively, dazzlingly green chimichurri sauce. Steaks, one server told us, “are always in style here.”

But as the dining scene in Maine evolved, so has Five Fifty-Five. “We already filled the special occasion niche, but we didn’t want to get pigeonholed,” Steve Corry said, describing the opening of the restaurant’s more casual, bar-focused adjoining Point Five Lounge, and the conversion of the restaurant’s third floor into a private event room. “But with the food and the space, we’re always trying to stay current,” he said.


You can spot the restaurant’s push toward innovation in dishes like the baby kale salad with grilled watermelon and shaved coppa ($10). The addition of pistachios, pickled watermelon rind and couscous, not to mention a lime-juice-and-yogurt dressing, make reference to the culinary world’s newfound, Ottolenghi-fueled embrace of Middle Eastern ingredients and techniques. And while we found the inspiration clear, there were just too many things going on in this dish, too many contrasting elements shouting for attention in every bite. The incorporation of something grilled, something pickled, something starchy, and something cured seemed like a strange mutation of a bridal tradition, rather than a recipe for an appealing salad.

This is not to say that Five Fifty-Five can’t get excess right sometimes. In its similarly maximalist New England scallop entrée ($32), the kitchen pairs four impeccably grilled scallops with a warm salad of blanched cherry tomatoes, green onions, peas, pea pods, pea shoots, corn and shishito peppers. Whew.

Seared New England scallops

Seared New England scallops

Here though, the ingredients are barely manipulated, their flavors stitched together loosely with lemon thyme. And because they are, as Steve Corry called them, “a showcase of the best of what’s coming out of the ground right now,” their inclusion makes undeniable sense. Quite simply, this is August on a plate, and it is extraordinary.

Pastry chef Yazmin Saraya’s work was also precisely matched to the season and very enjoyable, particularly her riff on peaches and cream ($10). With its tender roasted peach half and contrasting dots of vibrantly orange peach-and-apricot puree and pale honey anglaise, along with a scoop of cardamom ice cream, the plate resembled a whimsical, confectionary version of a Twister board. Also excellent, her dense, almost fudgy corn cake ($10), which could have been improved only by eliminating the sour grilled corn kernels underneath the quenelle of gorgeous cajeta (caramelized condensed milk) ice cream.

Peaches and cream

Peaches and cream Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Other dishes, tasted over two visits to the restaurant, were generally successful in places, with a few baffling errors of composition, execution or both. Our Carbonara-like spinach fettuccini with crispy pancetta and local mushrooms ($14 small/ $27 large) came topped with a jiggling raw egg yolk, which gave the presentation a certain concentric symmetry. But the yolk should have been blended in with the house-made pasta (and some pasta water) before serving, because rather than creating a silky, lushly emulsified sauce when pierced, the runny yolk just puddled at the bottom of the bowl, adding nearly nothing to the dish, even when stirred into the rapidly cooling pasta. Worse, the whole dish was underseasoned and tasted mostly of the oil that had been used to sauté the mushrooms.

Similarly, the pork chop with braised Stonecipher Farms kale and collards ($28) had some real high points. Chief among these (and most important for the dish) was a faultlessly grilled chop, sourced from Bucksport, and topped with a splendidly tangy barbecue sauce made from cider vinegar, tomato paste, caramelized onion and whiskey. We also loved the delightfully smoky braised greens, but we were disappointed by the skimpy serving of just a few leaves – a cruel tease that made us grab a menu to see if they were offered as a side (they were not). The real problem on the plate, however, was the local yellow eye beans, which were undercooked, a few actually still almost raw.


Occasionally, the kitchen duffs an entire dish, like the blackberry salad ($10) with ricotta salata, which featured fat ribbons of fresh cucumber and local greens, dressed in a broken, underflavored garlic scape vinaigrette and crunchy, unripe (and frankly terrible) blackberries sprinkled throughout.

I found these problems all the more surprising in light of what I had heard from a friend who once worked as a line cook at Five Fifty-Five. He told me recently how talented Steve Corry was at running his kitchen, especially expediting orders: “If a dish showed up on the pass with any mistake – literally any single flaw – he would send it back without ever getting angry, and get the cooks to do it right.”

But when I later learned that the Corrys’ attention has been pulled recently to their other big project, the re-opening of French bistro Petite Jacqueline in a new space in the Old Port, I started to see the meal’s problems in context. Without Steve’s expediting skills and eagle eyes on every plate, some errors were bound to slip past.

So too with service, which, along with an extensive and beautifully considered wine list that includes many bottles under $30 (and one for $21), is Michelle Corry’s domain. At turns inattentive, uncoordinated and occasionally bizarre, service felt much too casual for a restaurant at this price point. We sat with only a wine list – no menus – for nearly 10 minutes on one visit. On another, one server introduced herself to us and took drink orders using a fake British accent, and another startled a neighboring table finishing dessert by elbowing one diner and interrupting their conversation to quip, “Butter and sugar sure do taste good together, don’t they, folks?”

And that’s a shame, because we saw evidence of impressive cocktail knowledge from one of our servers, who not only knew what went into both the refreshing, minty Cucumber Rickey ($12) and the too-sweet, gin-based Martinez ($12), but offered us suggestions for two similar drinks we might enjoy, as well as directions for how to make them at home. Had she been behind the bar, I’m pretty confident we wouldn’t have received an improperly strained Martinez that arrived with sizable chunks of ice floating on its surface.

It is hard to say if the meal’s problems point to a temporary (and easily fixed) lack of focus, or if they signal bigger, more endemic issues. Regardless, Five Fifty-Five has an exceptional reputation to uphold, and as hard as it is to see it struggle even briefly, and as much as we might want to let it use its well-earned stature as a crutch, that isn’t how things work. Getting things right at every single service is the only way to keep an increasing number of sophisticated, ambitious rivals at bay.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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