“You know barkeep,” I say to the barkeep. “this is a great
salad.” He nods. “I mean, this salad…” I point at the salad with my fork and
grunt. He nods again. There’s a pause where I look him in the eyes for a while
and try not to blink.
“It’s a great salad,” says the barkeep. He looks away and starts cleaning a glass. I blink.
“I mean, I’d take this salad out to dinner.” I punctuate the last statement with a snort and a know-what-I’m-saying style vaudeville wink. The bartender raises his eyebrows and nods. He goes to walk away and I call him back.
“C’mere,” I say. “C’mere and just smell this thing. Garlic, cheese, white anchovy,” I grab his lapel. “I mean you can just smell the smoke in this thing!” The menu boasts that they smoke the romaine and you can taste it — it’s tender too. The barkeep calmly waits until I release my grip. I keep eating, chuckling in awe as I do. After a couple bites I let go. The barkeep fixes his hair and goes to ask the other patrons at the bar how they’re doing. He’s a nice guy, this barkeep.
“Y’know, barkeep,” I say, clinking my knife against my full glass of water. “I’d date this salad.” He laughs. “Seriously,” I say.
I am serious. I would court this salad to the point of marriage. The bartender’s not even batting an eye. He’s just straight-facing a man saying that he’s falling in love with a salad. And I’m not kidding. Does he think I’m kidding? I’m not. Top notch service at 555. Just a pleasure of a place.
“It’s beautiful,” I say. A beautiful thing to find love. I grab a passing server.
“Who made this salad?” I nearly scream it at her. I can’t help it. A piece of romaine sticks to her nicely pressed collar.
“I’m sorry, sir.” She says. “Are you asking where we source our ingredients from?” I shake my head, chuckling. What a great interpretation of my question. Wrong, but great.
“Made it. Made the salad. Whose hands created this?”
She levels an open palm toward the kitchen. “Our chefs, sir.” The barkeep is already back, showing his support. She’s playing me cool too. She must be twenty — a professional for her age. “Is there a problem with it?”
“A problem?” I lean down and rub my face in the salad and grab her coat at the same time. Then I pull her close to my face so she gets a whiff of the dressing caked up in my facial hair and the pieces of lettuce and the crouton now lodged in my nose. “You smell that? That’s pure delicious.”
She smiles at me and waits for me to let go. I give her some wildeye and snort the crouton out of my nose. She nods.
“Good,” I say. This place is top notch. Five Fifty-Five, what a name. The whole bar is looking at me now — plus some patrons peeping from over from the dining area. I let go of her after looking around a bit.
“We’re glad you like it,” says the barkeep.
“Yeah, that’s great,” says the server. They’re so good they must be robots. Androids. Keeping calm with me grabbing them and snortin’ ‘tons. It makes me respect them.
I bet in the height of Rome they didn’t have service this good. I could probably bring a severed lion head in here and they’d smile and ask how I’d like it done. Kings wish their retinues were this good. Such food. I grab the plate, dump it on the ground and body slam the rest. People watch as I writhe through the grub.
“Really great stuff,” I repeat. The barkeep leans up over the bar and smiles.
“It’s tasty,” he says. “I love that salad.”
“Get the manager!” I shriek that one. By now I’m covered in all sorts of Ceasar Salad bits. The floor is kind of smeared with the dressing and I’m doing Caesar angels by the time he shows.
“Sir, I see you’re enjoying the salad.” The manager is another smooth customer. I chuck an anchovy at him and he lets it hit his laundered suit. He doesn’t even wipe the white mark. Then I lob a handful of salad and he opens his mouth. Doesn’t catch any but I appreciate the gesture.
“You guys have a vomitorium?” I ask.
The server, barkeep and manager look at each other and shrug.
“I’m sorry sir,” says the manager. “We don’t know what that is.”
At length, I explain to them the fabled upper limits of excess in late Roman culture. The vomitorium, legend goes, was a place where full-bellied revelers could go to upchuck their meals so as to free up space and keep the fête fêting.
“One sec,” says the manager. “Let me check with the owners.” He hustles out and leaves me with the server and barkeep. I try to get up and slip in the greasy mess. The barkeep rounds the bar and the server is already rolling up her sleeves to help me. I bellow at them to stand back. Wriggling like a snake, I make a fair tour of the facility. Keeping my arms locked close to my sides I slitheringly locomote around under feet and chairs. I even make a tour of the kitchen, hasty chefs step over and around me without complaint.
Back at the bar I use a chair for leverage and haul myself up. Everybody is smiling and grinning, having a great goddamn time. Who knew a place like this could be so jovial. I salute them and make a sprinting leap out the front window. Laying on the street in a pile of glass shards and trickling blood I hear the barkeep crunch up next to me.
“You forgot your salad,” he says to me. Sure enough he’s holding a little to-go box of salad that he scraped off the floor. I thank him profusely and limp home.
Later that evening I pick out the ring on TV. Me and the salad get married three days later. It’s a tasteful ceremony at my childhood church. Not too many in attendance, just close relatives. You can imagine how I feel seeing the love of my life wheeled down the aisle by the manager. He even draped the pushcart in a gorgeous wedding dress. Those guys at 555 really know their service.
Fifty-five years later and me and my Caesar Salad are still together. We have kids with two grand kids on the way. Beautiful family. Wonderful life. My Caesar Salad is a couples therapist and I’ve made enough money in aboveground swimming pool foreclosure to while away the days painting watercolors in my garage studio. Still-lives mostly — is what I paint — with the occasional landscape thrown in.
And there I am sitting in my garage when I hear a chuckle in the house — a man’s chuckle.
Bursting in the door I find my salad on the table with the manager. He’s sitting across the table, a cup of coffee steaming in front of him. Sure, he’s got the lines of age but he looks healthy and great and he gives me a wave. I wave right back.
“Manager,” I say.
“Howdy,” he says. I shake his hand across the table, not realizing I’ve still got wet paint on there. I apologize but the manager just smiles. It’s a hell of a shock seeing him after all this time but we fall back into easy conversation.
The toilet flushes and out comes the server, wiping her hands on a beige towel initialed S & M. Stands for Salad and Me.
I wave to her and she motions for the barkeep to get off the couch and come say hi. They’re all still wearing the same stuff they were that one night way back fifty-five years ago.
“Happy anniversary,” says the barkeep. Anniversary? I’d forgotten all about that! Who could have goddamn guessed that fifty five years later here come these wonderful people back to celebrate the day I met my salad wife.
We all sit in the drawing room and reminisce about the great times we had at 555.
“And then…” the Manager is laughing. “And then he just commando crawls all around the dining room. The whole thing!”
“No!” I say.
“Yes. Yes you did!” The waitress points and laughs, tears rolling through the grooves of the crow’s feet etched beside her beautiful eyes.
“No I didn’t! I did not commando crawl!” I silence them with my hands, waving them down. They all go quiet except for little chuckles and hoos as they get the laughs out. Expectation is palpable in the air.
“I slithered.” I say, and then I slither out of the room to the thunder of their laughter. Salad just sits there on the table. Man. 555. What super times. Stellar people. Really love that place.
We’re talking the real deal here. A Caesar is a dish that is hard to mess up and equally difficult to improve. Five Fifty-Five improved it with the addition of smoked romaine leaves. Utter magic. Their burger is also insanely good. I have not yet had their tasting menu but I have been assured by reliable sources that it is, indeed, ballzerko. Full disclosure, I have only actually eaten the burger and Caesar Salad. Twice. Both were of such high quality that I have utter confidence in the rest of the menu. I will be sampling it soon.
Is joke. Is funny. Kidding aside, it is a pricier establishment. In this circumstance, though, with price comes quality. This meal is worth every cent.
Low Light. Just Right.
It’s the ambience you’d expect and desire at a place with such great food. Wood, exposed brick, sparse art, this is a comfortable nook to nestle into for a delightfully protracted meal.
Another shining gold star goes to the service. Knowledgeable and prompt. These people deserve some mad tippage.
EAT OR SKIP:
It is not necessarily my go-to nice restaurant in Portland, but it is a staple. You will walk out pleased as punch.