Visit this eatery for atmosphere and interesting plates

Munjoy Hill’s Lolita is on my semi-regular rotation for dinners. Unfortunately, that rotation doesn’t get me there often because we go to a lot of different restaurants. Their allure is that they have historically provided solid Mediterranean-inspired food, often utilizing their wood-fired grill, and the interior is warm and inviting with a retro-elegant feel and wine and liquor lined walls. Only getting there every year or so, it’s like visiting a new restaurant every time.

We had early reservations, so the restaurant was mostly empty. Mrs. Portlandeater initially ordered a glass of La Fraghe Bardolino Rose and we followed up with food requests. We skipped meats and cheeses, instead starting with three items from the Toasts, Pots, Snacks portion of the menu. We went with Smoked Prosciutto Toast – almonds, garlic, on wood-grilled sourdough; Burrata Toast – lemon confit, aleppo oil; and Almonds – sage, sea salt. We decided to work on those as starters and then determine where to head with the food from there.

The first courses were adorned on a single plate in minimalist fashion. I jumped on the prosciutto. It was folded onto the toast atop a garlic and almond spread. I wouldn’t say it was fancy, but it was a bit of tiny, more inspired charcuterie. It’s flavors were great in that you could clearly taste all of them. The salty eat, crunchy nuts, and properly potent garlic left a smile on my face.

I went for the bowl of almonds as my wife ate the burrata. They were fine almonds, but I didn’t find the sage to be significant and I was really looking forward to it. That left me in a space where I got to enjoy the nuts at face value, but was slightly disappointed they didn’t have that extra herb flavor, save for a couple of bites where I got an actual visible piece of the leaves. I finished them wanting for a little more pizzazz.

For our second courses, we focused on the Small, Medium, and Large sections of the menu. She started with a small plate of the Creamed Corn and Black Trumpet Mushrooms which was actually from the specials board and also selected a small plate of Local Mussels – fennel and ouzo broth, fresh lemon. I chose a medium Torchio – ‘Nduja, peas – and also a cheese – Cobb Hill Golden Aged Smoked Gouda from Hartland, VT with wood-grilled sourdough and honey.

Her items seemed a bit small for the price even though they were small plates. Mine were more appropriately sized, I felt. The torch shaped pasta was well appointed with little bits of the ‘nduja (spicy pork salami) and peas. I’m not sure that peas and salami would have been my first choice to insert into a pasta creation, but the spice coated the pasta and filled my palate with focused, mildly spicy flavor. It had almost peas to make me feel like I was eating an actual vegetable.

My cheese was a significant hunk and came with what seemed like an entire loaf of bread. It was great, and I had an extra couple slices of sourdough, one of which I used to try the broth from my wife’s mussels. Even though I’m not a huge fan of ouzo or fennel, I found it pleasant, maybe because I was focused on the light citrus or maybe because the totality of ingredients in the broth took it up a level.

We finished our food, mine talking longer than hers, and got out for $70 pre-tip. Both of us found our meals pleasurable, though she left a bit hungry. Two small plates and a toast wasn’t quite enough. That’s the thing about Lolita – the food is consistently well-prepared, but if you don’t order the medium or large plates, you are likely to need at least a few, so order a bunch and be adventurous.

Lolita works for me as a place to go when I can’t make a decision about what I want to eat or just when I’m feeling Munjoy Hill is the right area to grab some food. They never disappoint and always have an interesting variety of items like Blistered Shishito Peppers, Heirloom Tomato Casserole, and Grilled Half Game Hen. If you haven’t been yet, I suggest you make a visit there, because I’m sure you’ll be happy you did.

90 Congress St.
207-775-5652
info@lolita-portland.com

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Stunning views abound at this Harpswell restaurant

It’s not exactly convenient to go to Harpswell for a meal, but my wife had been years without going to The Dolphin, which is both a marina and restaurant. I’d never been, but she assured me it was worth the visit, boasting of its views, food, and an overall atmosphere that could be thoroughly enjoyed on a nice day such as it was.

Our trip there wasn’t quick, but when we arrived, I could quickly see the allure. Set directly on the water, overlooking ocean, boats, and islands in the distaance, I couldn’t imagine much better scenery. From the inside, once in the main dining area, there was a panoramic view of the sea, as the large windows spead the entire length of the restaurant at the water. We chose to sit outside which provided us with a slightly different, but equally amazing, sight.

Since I was on vacation and the weather was gorgeous, I was primed for a cocktail. I kept it simple, strong, and summery with a Pain Killer – Light and Dark Cruzan Rum, OJ, pineapple, Coco Lopez, Pussers rum float, a sprinkle of nutmeg. She went with just a seltzer and lime. We also threw in an app of Calamari – lightly fried, cilantro sweet chili sauce – to get us started.

My drink was delicious – pretty much what I expected, though the nutmeg was a nice addition. It was indeed strong, as pain killers are. Sipping the drink and soaking in the beautiful scenery produced a serenity rarely found in real life. I couldn’t get enough of it, and even though I was hungry, it didn’t matter much because I was so content. Still, I was happy when the rectangular plate of calimari arrived and we put in our requests for main courses.

The crisp squid was quite tasty and I loved the chili sauce which was pretty typical except for that relatively unusual hint of cilantro mixed into it. I thought the sauce as a whole worked well to flavor bites of delicious decapod. It was a good enough dish that my wife kept coming back for more long after she had said she was done. “You eat the rest” she would say, immediately followed by “just one more bite” as her fork made its way toward the plate.

I had ordered the Blackened Haddock Sandwich – lettuce, tomato, cucumber dill sauce – and a side of Homemade Mac n’ Cheese. She went with the Haddock Sandwich special – lightly breaded, deep fried, melted cheese, sourdough. She held the bacon that came on hers. Both sandwiches were served with house made potato chips and a pickle. I noticed the pieces of fish on each plate right away. Hers was thicker and fit well on the bread. Mine was thinner and hung over the bun.

This certainly wasn’t my first blackened haddock sandwich, but it looked like a fine example of one. The cucumber dill sauce came on the side, taking the place of ranch, which I am more used to seeing with blackened items. The sauce – in this case, cucumber dill – cools the heat of the cajun seasoning a bit and also adds some extra flavor. I put most of it on top of my fish.

A single bite of the haddock on its own was good, but a second full bite of the sandwich was excellent. This wasn’t rocket science. There was a tasty toasted bun, really fresh and heavily seasoned fish, fresh lettuce and tomato, and a great sauce. It was perfectly done and mostly status quo, but that’s exactly what made it great. She had the same reaction to her sandwich. The mac was outstanding with lots of creamy cheese, though much of it was in the bottom of my bowl.

One part of the meal I thought was a really great addition were the house chips. Those are almost always much better than store bought and they indeed were this time too. The thick, crispy slices were pure joy with a satisfying “crrrrunnncchhhh” in every bite. They even went quite well with the little bit of cucumber dill I had left over from the sandwich.

We finished and were relatively full. None of the desserts piqued our interest enough to order one. The final tab came to about $60 before tip. The Dolphin doesn’t get too crazy with their food or drinks, they just make them like they’re supposed to be made and it’s all quite good. But that alone might not be worth the trip from Portland. What is worth it though are the glorious views which take the meal from really good to spectacular and with prices you’d expect around Portland. Want a picturesque meal that will give you the happys? Check them out.

515 Basin Point Rd., Harpswell
207-833-6000
info@dolphinmarinaandrestaurant.com

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Sure, it’s in the name, but seriously, these clams are awesome

Bob’s Clam Hut first opened in Kittery somewhere around the time man discovered fire (okay, it was really 1956). They have since become famous and been heavily lauded for their food, and most of the accolades revolve around their fried clams and lobster roll. Last month, they opened a second location on Cumberland Ave. in Portland, bringing their goods a little further north for people who don’t venture to or stop by the southern tip of Maine very often.

The smallish restaurant is only counter service. Inside, there is a large, easy to read menu on the wall to the left, and to its right – a quarter of a head-swivel away and directly behind the counter – are specials on chalkboards. There is a nice seating area both inside and out and a convenient window to the outside to pick up food. We pulled up to order, giving eyes to the menu for a couple minutes before we were ready.

I liked the size of the menu. There were rolls, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, chowders, baskets, salads, combination plates, and sides. There was something for everyone. I eyed the combination plates thinking big…a Seafood Basket with clams, scallops, and fish might work or maybe just a combo plate with the first two. I also considered the Oyster Basket or even some Fish Tacos.

With Mrs. Portlandeater prodding me to finally make a decision, I settled on the Whole Clam Basket (who eats clam strips?) served with French fries and coleslaw. She ordered the Lobster Roll served with French fries, grilled roll, and pickle – and also a hard cider. Then we found a beautiful spot to sit outside that wasn’t covered but also wasn’t too sunny.

Just about everything we needed was located conveniently outside – napkins, water, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, and salt and pepper. We gathered the necessities and our food was served up through the window in a short time. I was offered a couple tarter sauces which I gladly accepted and accepted again when offered a third because I realized the containers were only half full.

My clams mostly hid the slaw and fries underneath. Her lobster roll was quite full. With my fork, I stabbed a clam and ate it with some tartar sauce. It was wonderfully crispy, perfectly tender inside, and preposterously fresh. The crunchy, fried outside was seasoned to add some flavor but not enough to divert from the natural deliciousness of the clam. I could have eaten the clams plain, but the house tartar sauce was also superb, so I used plenty of that.

Once I got to where I could see the fries and slaw, I tried both. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by either, but I was certainly satisfied. They were more than just an afterthought and I felt each was a truly suitable companion to my clams. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination. My wife felt good about the lobster roll and loved the outdoor seating area. I didn’t try the roll, but I’ve had it before and I can confirm that they are of a quality appropriate for Maine.

We finished our food, leaving nothing behind. When we went to dispose of our garbage, we saw a sign on the compost barrel that stated everything used at Bob’s Clam Hut is compostable. We threw everything in there and happily, but not hungrily, made our way out. Our two meals were about $43 plus tax (not including the cider). I really loved the food and I think you will too. Go now and love the lobster roll, savor some scallops, and claim your clams. It’s the right thing to do.

111 Cumberland Avenue
207-536-7608
noah@bobsclamhut.com

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Restaurateurs keep it real with authentic pizza and more

The owners of Portland Italian mainstay Paciarino have opened a new pizza shop just a hop and a skip away. The aptly named Pizzarino features authentic Italian pizza, salads, risotto/risotto balls, and a number of beverages and desserts. I went with a buddy, hoping to get the feel for what they were serving and how things were going only days after their doors opened. We were seated at the far end of the restaurant right next to the kitchen.

About the time we sat down, a gentleman prepped a dj booth, introduced himself, donned a fedora, and began performing karaoke, starting with Sinatra and moving on to other crooners. It was a little odd, though I suppose it probably fit the scene. I was initially concerned that the volume might make conversation difficult, but since we were at the other end of the room, it turned out to be fine. If we had been closer, it may have been an issue.

Dual beverage pairings were offered on the menu with each food item. We ignored those and I stuck with water while he ordered a Coke. After a lengthy thought process with the food, we decided on our meals, cutely ordering the same items. Each of us would have the Insalata Milano – Arcadian Salad topped with red onions, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese dressed with daily-made vinaigrette – followed by the Prosciutto Cotto Pizza – mozzarella, tomato sauce, prosciutto-cotto-ham, extra virgin olive oil, basil.

I thought the salads could have come out a little faster, but they did eventually show up. They were large – delivered in a metal bowl with handles on either end – of which we were informed in advance. The greens were bright and fresh with a fair amount of grated parm on top. My first bite was quite pleasant. The housemade dressing was stellar. I felt it was among the more well-seasoned Italians/vinaigrettes in town and combined magnificently with the parm to create a truly flavorful salad that was the perfect prep for pizza.

With the veggies done, we waited for the pie and again, they were just a little slow to be delivered. They arrived as “single-serving” (10in?) uncut saucers that were the same size as the plates underneath. Upon asking we were informed that we should simply eat them with a fork and knife. I fogot about all the other times in my life I ate pizza (by the slice) and got to cutting a piece.

The meat and basil looked a little sparse. However, with the first bite, I better understood what was going on. The whole wheat crust was thin which made it easy eating, but toppings were doled out proportionally. More toppings would have been overpowering. This wasn’t an extravagant, gargantuan pizza; it was traditional Italian simplicity.

We finished the pizza and I probably could have had another, though I think most would find the size more than satisfactory for one. We decided not to stop there and grabbed a dessert to finish the meal, as large, hungry people sometimes do. There were a fair number of choices including dessert pizzas and tiramisu, among others, but we decided on the Sorbetto al Limoncello – Sicilian lemon gelato swirled with Limoncello sauce.

Our frozen finale came in a tall, thin glass that was probably a little too romantic for our man-date. It was not exactly what I expected, but quite tasty. It had a creaminess to it that was surprising and went down a little slow since it was so cold. Warming it with my hands helped soften it a bit and I eventually made my way through it, savoring its swet and sour citrus flavors.

With two Cokes, two each of the three items we ordered, and a pizza to take home to Mrs. Portlandeater, the tab came to about $97 after tip. I was really impressed with the salad and thought the pizza was good enough to add to my rotation, especially if I wasn’t looking for just a massive pie and nothing else. My only hope would be that service would speed up slightly, though it wasn’t that bad considering I was there on their sixth day. Head there soon and check out a pizza place that’s Italian through and through. Pizzarino adds another to Portland’s list of pizza eateries that have a style all their own.

505 Fore St.
207-536-1189
pizzarino.portland@gmail.com

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Don’t miss out on the pesto at this Italian restaurant

Solo Italiano’s menu changes daily and it might just have been what we ordered that day many moons ago when we first went, but I didn’t feel like it was a great value. However, while on our recent food tour we stopped by and were quite impressed with our tasting. It made us want to get back immediately to see if, and how, they had progressed.

We had reservations and were seated at a familiar table – the one we had occupied for a short time just the week prior. I didn’t really have anything to compare the menu to since I hadn’t had a meal there in so long, but at first glance, the selection did strike me as more interesting than on my initial visit. My wife ordered a Rose from the ample wine list and we began discussing the menu.

There were a number of apps and entrees available. Among the starters were some raw items, focaccia, salads, and more. Entrees included both pasta and non-pasta dishes. I was in the mood for a salad and some pasta though I had to work out which ones from the numerous options. I also wanted to coordinate with Mrs. Portlandeater so we didn’t order the same items.

She went with the Insalata di Granchio – Jonah crab meat, chilled carnaroli rice, cucumber, heirloom cherry tomato, lemon, chive – to start. Her main course was Mandilli al Vero Pesto Genovese – handkerchief pasta tossed in an authentic Genovese basil pesto (from the food tour). I chose a starter of Barbabiettole – organic roasted beet salad with Stonecipher Farm beets, gorgonzola dolce, Dandelion Spring Farms baby arugula, dressed with honey, lemon, olive oil, and sea salt. My entree was Lasagne al Portofino – Genovese Lasagne, speck, basil pesto, bechamel, farm potatoes and fava beans, Parmigiana-Reggiano, pine nuts.

The starters were both very attractive and well-plated. Their size was strong for appetizers. My salad had lots of beet bites and three dallops of the dolce on top of the arugula. A little lemon zest was sprinkled on the side of the bowl. I tried a bite and loved it except that that the dolce was really strong and needed to be spread throughout. I hadn’t had beets recently, but they were excellent and the sweet, acidic dressing was a great compliment. It was a tasty, hearty salad.

Her dish was listed under the raw choices, but I wasn’t sure what was raw about it even after having had a taste. I loved that it had plenty of crab while the rice and vegetables added a base that didn’t remove any of the flavor. It was sushi-like – relatively light and refreshing while having serious seafood deliciousness. We cleaned our plates and had high hopes for our entrees.

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t know what to expect from a green lasagna with no red sauce. The fava beans and pine nuts were on top, the speck on the bottom. The rest of the ingredients were mainly within the dozen or more thin layers. I took my first bite and really liked the crispy “overcooked” edge. The pesto was brilliant as it had been the week prior. The speck added a really nice touch that was different and more exciting than a traditional meat sauce.

Since I had eaten the handkerchief pasta she had just recently, I knew it was excellent, but a few more bites of it just reinforced that. The astounding creaminess and up-front basil left nothing behind in terms of flavor and overall feel in the mouth. And it wasn’t just the pesto that made it so good as the squirrely pasta was so light and delicate, it felt almost like it could be consumed without chewing (though I wouldn’t recommend that).

When all was said and done, our food came to $112 including tip. It was certainly a better experience than we had there the first time in that the meals just felt more complete for the price. I was quite impressed every step of the way. You can’t go wrong with the pesto, so I highly recommend that, but I enjoyed everything we ordered. Solo Italiano is definitely worthy of a visit and I recommend trying as many items as you can handle, or maybe even more.

100 Commercial St.
207-780-0227

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Maine Food for Thought tour is informative and tasty

I was recently invited to take a complimentary food tour through Portland. The Land Sea to Fork tour by Maine Food for Thought started last month and – at least when I went – was led by Bryce Hach who owns the company along with his wife Sarah. The tour focuses not just on eating great food, but learning about the food system and its impact on Maine and the people who live and visit our state.

The tour started at Union and took us to six different eateries. Each one was chosen because it offered something to eat that could also be used to teach about the effect our food has on us. What follows are some pictures and a few words about what we ate. It should be noted that the offerings at each location can and do change quite regularly.

Union

Chowder w/ coconut milk, lemongrass, hake, lobster oil, clam, potato
A nice starter soup with plenty of fish flavor, this beautiful bowl got us started nicely.

390 Congress Street
207-808-8700

Evo

Spicy Potato from Stonecipher Farm – tumeric, garlic, coriander, cayenne, cumin, mustard seeds, jalapeno, cilantro, yogurt

This wasn’t too spicy hot, but had multifaceted flavoring from all the spices in it.

443 Fore St
207-358-7830

Solo Italiano

Handmade Handkerchief Pasta with world award-winning Genovese pesto w/ basil from Olivia’s Garden, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan, pinenuts

This turned out to be my favorite dish of the day. The pasta was exceptionally delicate and literally fell on the plate like a handkerchief. The pesto won best in the world for good reason. Rather than oily and separating, it was creamy and full-bodied – an absolute work of art.

100 Commercial St.
207-780-0227

Scales

Bangs Island Mussels – Raye’s mustard, local cider, cream, house shallot garlic thyme butter, bread from Standard Baking

These mussels were like I’ve never had and the key to them was Raye’s mustard. The last traditional stone ground mustard mill in North America makes an incredible condiment which takes mussels – and probably anything else – to another level.

68 Commercial St.
207-805-0444

East Ender

Lobster Roll – lobster mayo, tomato, cheese

How could lobster be bad? It wasn’t, but East Ender was busy on Saturday afternoon, making this the one place where it might have been tough for some to hear the story of Maine’s most beloved shellfish.

47 Middle St.
207-879-7669

Piccolo

Strawberries from Stonecipher Farm w/ pistachio, white chocolate mousse

I could have eaten 25 of these desserts. Light, only a lightly sweet, and really delicious, they were a perfect finish to our tour.

111 Middle St.
207-747-5307

The Land Sea to Fork tour costs $72 and takes three hours or less. It involves a total of about one mile of walking and they take no more than 13 people per tour. I found it fun, informative, and a nice way to pass a summer afternoon. It’s probably ideal for tourists, but at least half the people on my tour were from Maine. If you’re interested in learning about what’s for dinner here in Maine, check it out.

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Lio has the feel, food, and fun, but at a cost

James Beard award-nominated chef Cara Stadler opened her third restaurant just a few weeks ago. As a fan of her other eateries – Tao Yuan (Brunswick) and Bao Bao – Lio was immediately a must-try. The restaurant – focused on wine and small plates – is located on a second floor which also has available outdoor seating.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs and entering the restaurant, I was amazed by the beautiful setting. From the “horseshoes connected by bridges” bars that ran through the entire center of the main room to the beautiful glass-enclosed wine cellar/room, the design was unique and exciting. We had reserved a table, but since they were all on the outskirts of the room, we ditched our reservation and sat in the center of the action (it was early and slow, so the “action” was limited).

While a few of the half dozen signature cocktails looked appealing, none made me so thirsty as The Vault Key – Bully Boy Vodka, rhubarb, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, Cardamaro, lemon, lime cordial ($13). The wine list was long and the glass options were more than sufficient and available by the full or half glass. Mrs. Portlandeater went with a full glass of Rose ($11) and we began to seek the right food for the evening.

Once initial decisions were made, we ordered the Potato Chips and Caviar – Imperial Baerii, creme fraiche, shallot, egg, lemon ($15) – and Snow Pond – unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Kennebec Cheesery, with rhubarb compote, candied pecans and crostini ($7). As we often do with small plates, we planned to order in waves.

My drink was spectacular. It had beautiful, tart fruit flavors with hardly any sweetness and went down smoothly. It was composed of many of my favorite flavors which worked together perfectly and made a great warm weather libation. We sipped for a few and a complimentary aperativo plate was delivered. I hadn’t paid attention, but a sign outside touted that from 5-6, one would be provided with the order of any drink. Our special plate included preparations of shrimp, raw tuna, and carrots.

A board of five dressed homemade chips and our cheese came out together. I wasn’t particularly excited about eating the Imperial Baerii (caviar) on top, but in trying to expand my palette, I did. I must say the concoction as a whole was delightful. The little pile of toppings on each chip acted as a cool, refreshing dip. The Snow Pond provided a solid cheese and cracker option, but I felt the compote a tad too sweet of an accompaniment – distracting from the cheese more than adding to it.

I ordered a middle plate between our starter and main courses – Napa Cabbage Salad – Point Reyes blue cheese dressing, sugar snap peas, pea shoots, duck fat croutons, sunflower seeds ($12). The salad came with a paprika-based seasoning on top and a few pickled green tomatoes. It was relatively large and I liked the looks of the concoction.

It might have been the blue cheese, or the seasoning, or even the tomatoes, but I found the cabbage salad – a favorite of mine – to be a stellar dish. With lots of crunch and some nice tones of flavor, it was a satisfying precursor to my upcoming main course. It took a while to eat since there was more volume to it than our starters, but I enjoyed the process thoroughly.

Our main courses were Seared Scallops – brown butter, almonds, pecorino, sage, kohlrabi, boquerones, Meyer lemon, capers ($16) – for me and Maine Lobster Risotto – fava beans, garlic scapes, fennel, parmesan, preserved lemon ($21) – for her. I had four large half-scallops laying on the round side with their tops encrusted in what I could only assume was pure goodness. There was a smattering of kohlrabi, almonds, and capers artfully strewn about.

The scallops were indeed magical. I was stunned as I could literally taste each flavor in every bite – cheese, herbs, anchovy, and lemon in the crust. I loved everything about my entree. The lobster risotto was pleasant with lots of creamy cheese. While I was happy with the couple of bites that I had, the scallops were more flavorful to me.

We considered ending our meal once we finished what we had, but couldn’t turn down Plum and Raspberry Bavarian Cake – almond, beach rose sherbet ($10). What appeared to be the most exciting dessert item displayed a virtual rainbow of colors, incorporating fruit, candies, and flowers into its presentation. The cake was light as was the sherbet. The fruit flavors were perfect for the season and I appreciated that it wasn’t too sugary. Once done, were given a few strawberry candies, then paid and made our way out.

Lio was a fine experience. I most enjoyed my salad and scallops and my drink was also a highlight. My only concern about Lio is the pricing. I don’t mind paying for excellent food, but I did find the cost a little steep for what was provided. The chips are probably the best example at $15 for only 5, but some other items also seemed a little too expensive for what they were. It was recommend that we order three plates each, which is what we did, and with tip, the meal came to $136.

Despite the cost, I found Lio to be a beautiful setting, the food to be enjoyable, and the service up to par. I would recommend a visit. Just be aware that you might find yourself paying toward the higher end of casual meals in Portland. Still, if you’re looking for a good new place to settle in for drinks and/or food, there’s another viable restaurant in town.

3 Spring St.
207-808-7133

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