The splendid four-course dinner at Five Fifty-Five was a welcome treat while all the other Portland restaurants open for Thanksgiving dinner were on a tear, packed full with holiday diners.
Imagine if bargain hunters crossed the line to grab steals and deals on the ritual of Thanksgiving dinner, the most commemorative meal of the holiday season: Turkeys from a basement bargain bin, sweets and sprouts at wholesale prices and pumpkin pies by the truck full at pennies per pound for diners lining up in the cold as door-busting carnivores.
No, the tradition of this time-honored feast still maintains its decorum, but this year I decided to leave the pots and pans, the brining kettle and the dirty dishes to someone else and enjoy instead dinner at one of the many Portland restaurants serving on such a dedicatory day.
Yet when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning I was still programmed to start the rigors of a long day of cooking and felt almost disoriented that I had nothing to do all day except to wait for my six o’clock reservation.
At last count there were at least 12 restaurants in the Greater Portland area open for Thanksgiving. The dinner deals ranged from turkey tabs for $13.95 at Rosie’s to $80 per person at the inimitable Five Fifty-Five, my destination for dinner.
According to staffers the restaurant was packed like a Black Friday sale-a-thon, starting at 12:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., which was about when our 6 p.m. meal concluded, with the place still chock full of turkey revelers. Families, couples and even some walk-ins crammed this normally serene space as though it were the setting for the Last Supper.
Amazingly the kitchen handled it well, though the pace was slower than usual to deliver on this progression of a four-course meal. Still, The customary amuse bouche was not on the menu card, and having eaten lightly all day I was hungry and needed something to nibble on with our drinks.
The first course was a choice of market salad of local roots with a pear puree dressing or soup. We chose the butternut squash puree, a silken blending of Snell Farm butternut with an ingeniously festive garnish of coconut-flecked toasted marshmallow surrounded by hits of ginger and cilantro, all done in the perfect style of the Ancien Regime of new American bistro cooking.
After this fine beginning I could have gone right to the main event — turkey dinner — but the intermediate second course pushed us forward handsomely. A choice of a cheese plate; house-cured salmon; or a pasta were menu choices, but the latter two suited us well. Five Fifty-Five always has an in-house cured salmon on the menu, and this time it was done with grapefruit as the acid component served with beets from Stonecipher Farm, dill cream and rye crackers, a forager’s delight that was well conceived.
The pasta was hand-rolled cavatelli with braised Wriggin’s Farm (Nobleboro) pork set around drifts of nearly translucent slices of Parmesan and oyster mushrooms — all appropriately served with an Oregon Pinot, Anne Amie, from the Willamette Valley. I’m not sure which I liked more — the wine or the dish it accompanied; regardless, it all blended so well, if a bit heartily to be followed by the bigness of the roast turkey platter.
Sweetly tender, well-brined slices of breast meat mixed with a confit of leg was a lovely presentation. The dressing, however, was the star of the show. The bread stuffing was redolent with sage and thyme blended with more confit leg. It was savory and luxuriously seasoned, delivering a perfect wedge of Thanksgiving stuffing along with glazed local rutabaga, white turnips and crisp green beans.
At this point we were well sated, but since dessert was part of the prix fixe we couldn’t turn down the apple tart and the pumpkin cake — the two choices recommended by our waiter. A sweet pastry tartlet was wrapped around a glazed apples with julienned fresh local honey-crisp apple salad in a lemon-thyme dressing. Definitely this was a welcome, cutting-edge version of the traditional double-crust apple pie.
The pumpkin spice cake, however, transcended the usual slice of the pumpkin-dessert repertoire. Here a luscious pastry cream joined two slivers of cake with the texture of chiffon, topped with a spiced cream frosting and garnish of candied butternut squash. The pepita brittle and cider gastrique completed a perfect union as finale to this fine meal.
Five Fifty-Five’s Thanksgiving dinner was hardly the groaning board of dinner at Granny’s. Instead it was a haute version of the meal and what you expect when you dine at one of Portland’s premier restaurants where the cooking goes beyond expectations consistently.
I have, however, a small turkey in the coldest part of my refrigerator waiting to go into its brining bath today to serve up as a Saturday-after Thanksgiving tradition of turkey dinner at home. And I will be thankful for having both dining opportunities.