The latest venture from chef Cara Stadler, Lio is a hidden gem in downtown Portland. Located next to Old Port Vape Shop, Lio is a wine bar and restaurant featuring 32 single glass pours, ranging from $10 to $22, all of which are also available in half-glass portions.
You must climb a flight of stairs to reach the restaurant, but once inside, you are rewarded with a gorgeous décor featuring a stunning wooden bar that curves around the interior of the restaurant, creating a snake-like structure that allows patrons to sit on the exterior while the bartender and servers move through the inside portion. The barstools are really comfortable, but there are also a few regular tables by the window and a little bit of outdoor upper-level patio seating.
Despite being primarily a wine bar, Lio also has a small cocktail list. I ordered The Black Barrel, a $14 concoction consisting of Plantation Barbados 5-year rum, Averna, crème de cacao, grenadine, PX sherry and lime. The kind of cocktail you’d expect to find in an upscale cocktail bar, not in a bar known for wine, it blew me away with its burst of expertly blended flavors, a sensation that lasted until the final sip. As my sorority sisters know, I’ve enjoyed a lot of cocktails over the course of my travels, and this one was in the top five. It was thus no surprise when I learned that the bartender, Liz, used to be at Central Provisions. Frankly, you should probably stop reading this review right now and go straight to Lio to try one.
If you are still reading, however, I want to mention the food menu, which is divided into small bites, cold, house pasta and hot. The friendly and attentive staff are happy to recommend wine pairings and knocked it out of the park by pairing $10 frogs legs (complete with a frog veloute, which the server poured in front of us) with Les Deux Albions Viognier.
Lio, following Stadler’s restaurants’ trend of incorporating three-letter Chinese words ending in “o” in their names, means “six,” a nice touch since the building used to be known as Six City Center. Unlike her other two restaurants, Tao in Brunswick and Bao Bao in Portland, Lio is more European than Asian. Stadler was in the kitchen every night for the first several weeks after Lio opened at the beginning of the summer, and her talent clearly extends far beyond just Asian cuisine.
Speaking of talents, it’s time for me to return to the bartender. My drinking companion decided to go rogue and order a mocktail, choosing the $6 Meadowview made of chamomile, honey, lemon and orange blossom. The drink arrived with a delicate orange blossom perfectly arranged on top of the ice cube – off to a good start. I had feared that it would taste like something a grandmother would make for a sore throat, but it was light and refreshing, like (in my friend’s words) “an orange honey hive.” If I can taste a mocktail and not immediately think about which alcohol I want to add, the bartender has succeeded, and that’s exactly what happened.
WHERE: 3 Spring St,, Portland
PHONE: (207) 808-7133
HOURS: 5 p.m. to closing (usually 9 p.m.) Wednesday through Sunday
AMENITIES: 32 wines in half- or full-glass portions, staff who can recommend food pairings, small outdoor seating area
BOTTOM LINE: Extensive wine bar, which also has terrific options for cocktail lovers and non-drinkers, as well as food prepared by an experienced and talented chef.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No