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

Stay hungry.

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