Eating by halves

Checking out the Point Five Lounge
By BRIAN DUFF  |  April 18, 2007

It is always hard to know what to make of prestigious awards. Iraq war-enabler George Tenet has the Presidential Medal of Freedom after all, while Ku Klux Klan-loving Woodrow Wilson, war-criminal Henry Kissinger, and brutal-dictator coddler Mother Teresa all won the Nobel Peace Prize. My sole contribution to world peace is to drink to it from time to time, and I intended to do so at Five Fifty Five’s newish “Point Five Lounge” while trying out the lounge menu. We unexpectedly found 555 in a self-satisfied mood in the wake of chef Steve Corry’s inclusion on Food and Wine’s list of the ten best new chefs in the country.

Corry has probably never coddled a corrupt dictator (they favor personal chefs), though it would help to be one to afford many of the wines on 555’s extensive yet rarified list. Food and Wine’s list of chefs is rarified too. Along with Corry this year it featured Sean O’Brien at Myth in San Francisco, where I had my most memorable meal last year, as well as April Bloomfield at The Spotted Pig in New York, where I recently added my name to a three-hour waitlist (they don’t take reservations) before giving up. A few years back they recognized Rob Evans of Portland’s Hugo’s — which should have a three-hour wait for their strangely intriguing and surprisingly affordable bar menu, but somehow there is never a crowd.

Though Food and Wine knows its stuff, 555 has never sat entirely right with me. It’s a touch more expensive than some of Portland’s best, and you get the feeling that they justify the price with overly self-conscious style. I don’t love that the waiters give you the bullet on all the ingredients when they give you your plate — behavior usually reserved for a tasting menu. At one meal a waiter pushed an expensive wine without probing our preferences, and a pork loin tasted too hammy. But I have had some great dishes there, and another waiter pointed us to the terrific Tohu Pinot Noir.

While the service was fine, with the exception of a salad that never arrived to pacify a famished vegetarian, we had a mixed experience with the food in the lounge. The menu is mostly an abbreviated version of what you get in the dining room, which matters little since they give you the full menu as well. On two visits we were greeted with a complementary amuse bouche — a seared halibut with avocado that resembled fish guacamole, and a more successful salmon with chile oil and fennel, which offered a mild but complex heat. Among the starters there was a minimalist crostini with a single strip of candy-sweet pepper and another of anchovy — which looked more interesting than it tasted. A blended sunchoke soup tasted about as tan as it looked.

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