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4 1/2 Stars For 555; Carmen Is October's Queen

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Five Fifty-Five, "the darling of Maine's high-end dining scene," is awarded four-and-a-half stars by Shonna Milliken Humphrey in her enthusiastic review for the Maine Sunday Telegram. She cites a J.R.R. Tolkien quote that decorates a wall of the dining room: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world," as "setting the tone for the evening."

Five Fifty-Five offers good food and cheer, and every table seemed merry in its own individual way. But be warned that the experience will cost a bit of hoarded gold. That noted, the experience is well worth it.

The major magazines of Maine have given Carmen at The Danforth a double helping of review love in their October issues. DownEast's is not yet on online, but we already know writer John Golden loves the place from a write-up in June on his former blog, The Golden Dish.

For Maine Magazine, Joe Ricchio is transported from the get-go by "the most tender and flavorful grilled baby flower octopus that I have ever tasted." Much of his review focuses on chef Carmen Gonzalez: her background as a finalist on Top Chef Masters, national chef Ambassador for the Bacardi family and restaurateur in Miami and NYC; her friendship with Danforth owner Kim Swan that prompted her latest restaurant; her launch this month of a Spanish language cooking show.

When asked about the upside of working in Maine, her response is simple: At my previous restaurants, I would ship my favorite Maine products to Miami and New York, and now they are right outside my door! This is the first time I have done something so small and intimate, which is wonderful as it allows me to create things that are not always easy to execute in larger establishments.
Authentic Mexican food from a converted barn in the Sargentville woods excites Malcolm and Jillian Bedell of the From Away blog. They are equally admiring of the people who make it, former San Franciscans Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney.
It's easy to imagine them in their gigantic, then-unrenovated, unused barn, wondering what to do next, referring to "El El Frijoles" (get it?) at first only in the abstract. A love for California-style Mexican and the urging of relatives led them to open the restaurant, which quickly became the only place in town to eat out, and the center of the social community.
The food is clearly worth the 50 mile trip from Portland, "standout" pork carnitas tacos; black beans "creamy with a hint of smoky sweetness" and am "incredible" crab quesadilla.
Maine, I think, needs more of this brand of imperialism. People who grew up nearby, who feel compelled to come back and cook. People from away who can't seem to leave. Good folks, making good food and art, and being pleasant and funny and a little bit weird.
Maine Magazine's new food writer, Amy Anderson, recalls her brief, teenaged flirtation with being a vegetarian in her review of Green Elephant in Portland for the Eat Maine blog. "After eating at the Green Elephant it's clear to me that my cooking lacked a variety of protein, spices, and, above all, creativity."She finds all of the above in an atmosphere that has the happy buzz of "a dinner party at a friend's house or a large family gathering."
The beauty of eating at the Green Elephant is that you don't have to be vegan, gluten-free, or vegetarian to enjoy the menu. Most of the staff, some customers, and even Sriprasert eat meat. Looking around the dining room it's impossible to pick out the vegans from the meat eaters.

· Pricey, Not Pretentious, Five Fifty-Five Worth Every Nickel [MST]
· Carmen At The Danforth [MM]
· El El Frijoles [FA]
· Green Elephant, Portland [Eat Maine blog]

[Photo: Five Fifty-Five/Facebook]

Five Fifty-Five

555 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101-3308 207-761-0555

Five Fifty-Five

555 Congress St. Portland, ME