THE DINING REPORT – IORIO
Bimbo Prom Queens, Strip Clubs, and How Not To Pay For Your Meal

This stupid recession is seeming killing our friendly little dining group, and because of general lack of attendance and such a tiny core of current regulars (but I really appreciate you guys!) I fret and mull over every restaurant I put on the itinerary, worried if I can gather enough bodies to have each dinner. A good example of this was the one dinner I tried to have in April, at Navarre, a total washout where I could only wrangle one person into joining me, and that person even changed their mind when they learned their terrible fate, having to dine alone with ME. Believe me, I wouldn’t eat alone with me either given the choice, but that lousy law of physics keeps preventing me from escaping my own company, try though I might.

The reason I’m off on this tangent is to illustrate my trepidation over each restaurant I select for the roster, wondering, is this a bad night for so and so, have too many people already eaten here, what if this or that regular can’t or won’t come because of ?????????? …… blah, blah, blah, on and on. Since last fall I had a general list of places that we were going to try, and while we managed a few, basically I threw the whole lot out, for now at least. I’m always tempted by the new places, and you can bet in the next few months we’ll be visiting David Machado’s gigantic new Italian place downtown and that new Laurelhurst meat joint across from Music Millenium, but obviously, not too many people are confident enough to open new restaurants the way our economy is going.

As a few of you might remember, from RR’s earliest days, I used to hand out a large list of potential restaurants at many of the dinners, and have people vote on which places they most wanted to go. Actually, it’s probably unlikely that anyone remembers these lists, as I never see my original members at dinners these days, although I know one or two still browse the blog on occasion (usually when they run out of Ambien CR, Lunestra, or Sominex). As fate would have it though, I pulled one of these moldy oldie lists from my desk drawer a few weeks ago, and actually decided that a few of these restaurants from this two year old list didn’t look half bad.IMG_1086 Thus our latest dinner, at Iorio, a pleasant little place on lower Hawthorne I never really hear of read anything about, even after at least four years in business, but it seems to have built a decent following as time has passed.

Pam (who did not attend this dinner, but likes Iorio) warned me that many places were busy this time of year, because of prom season, but I scoffed at that, Prom people at Iorio. Prom people are for Salty’s, Portland Bar and Grill, maybe Newport Seafood Grill, no Prom types were going to think of eating at Iorio, very few people I know are even familiar with Iorio (and I like to keep people food informed). Of course, the minute we entered the restaurant our diminutive group of four was seated right next to Monster Prom Table, and even worse, right next to the kissy, kissy end. Now that can be a real stomach turner, to say the least. And I would guess these prom folks were not from Lincoln or Grant, they seemed like they were attendees from the School of Hard Knocks, judging by how poorly most of the thugs were dressed, whoops, did I type thugs, I meant to write young gentlemen, and by the brief and sleazy length of most of the young ladies’ gowns. I’ve had camisoles that covered more of my lower regions.

IMG_1077As previously mentioned, there were four of us this evening, having lost three potential co-diners, two to a birth that very afternoon. David and Glenda started the festivities out by knocking back gin and tonics, and I decided to try Iorio’s Huckleberry Martini. (I think it was huckleberry, eventhough huckleberry season is still about three months down the road). It was some thick purplish berry like thing, and not bad, although it would have been even better at twice the size (or course most liquor would).

I’ve always liked the decor in Iorio, rich red walls, interesting paintings, dark wood and antiques. Glenda commented on the current art, obviously all by the same painter, very boldly colored rural scapes with modernist touches that went nicely with the deep hued walls, especially all the yellow tones. IMG_1081Iorio, like Giorgio’s, Pazzo, a Cena and the like, go for subtle Italian touches in their furnishings, not hit me over the head with a Chianti bottle Italian with the drippy candles, flocked walks and checkered tablecloths. I must say I prefer my Italian this way, tasteful, I don’t need to feel I’m trapped in a mafia movie or a Soprano’s episode to enjoy a bowl of pasta.

The past three or so times I went to Iorio, all at lunch time (they are no longer open for lunch, so don’t try it) I must say I always felt inundated with food, but I mean this in a good way. One of the reasons this was true was the special touches Iorio provided, both at the beginning (the delicious homemade foccacia with roasted butternut squash spread) and the end (more on that later). Times are tough though, and I’m sure a little place like Iorio has to watch its’ bottom line, so nowadays, if you want that foccacia, you have to order it and pay two dollars. Two dollars isn’t really a big deal, but as it happens, no one ordered it, so I don’t know if it’s changed or not, and I can’t remember if it ever approached the perfection of that oil laden foccacia at Lovely Hula Hands. Instead I followed Shawin’s lead and spent my first two food dollars on the Antipasti of the evening, an unusual little scoop of garbanzo beans and grated cheese.IMG_1075 To be honest, I only ordered this item because it was just two dollars, and I wanted to see what I would receive for such a small sum. It wasn’t bad, very nutty tasting, but I must say I wouldn’t want five dollars of this concoction, that would be a tad overwhelming.

Iorio probably needs to do what it can to generate attention in its rather un-noticible location, not far from the off-ramp of the Hawthorne Bridge, where all sorts of traffic and bicycles constantly go whizzing by, and where in past days, people came looking for only one thing, BEER! (It’s across from the Lucky Lab). That’s actually how I knew where it was, I spotted it on a visit to the gastronomically atrocious Lucky Lab. IMG_1076So to garner some attention, Iorio has a large sidewalk billboard announcing they have the “best calamari in Portland”. I don’t really know how scientific this survey was, but I’ve had this “Wild caught calamari with cornmeal crust” all the times I’ve been to Iorio, and I knew it was plenty good. Actually, this is a disturbing trend I’ve noticed recently, now everyone has “wild caught calamari” Where was it caught before, in someone’s bathroom? Perhaps a fish market’s commode? Maybe it’s that rule that makes supermarkets tell you when fish is farm raised (hey, I thought there wasn’t supposed to be anything wrong with being brought up on a farm?)

Sad humor aside, David was seduced by the squid-lovers billboard, and told us he would get an order to share with all takers (that made three of us, Glenda tends not to partake in deep fryer creations, poor, misguided fashion maven).IMG_1078 I had no trouble indulging though, and between Shawin, David and I, we made it all gone. Of course I never have issues with making items that come with a side of homemade Aioli all gone (this version was Preserved Meyer’s Lemon Aioli).

While Shawin kept nibbling away on her Chickpeas (naturally I had gobbled mine all up) and the Calamari, the other three of us had salads. Glenda, one of those root vegetable types, had the “Beet salad with Dolce gorgonzola and greens”. Glenda usually really gets off on salads, but her enthusiasm for this particular mix was muted by an abundance of dressing. David and I both decided the “Whole leaf romaine Caesar” sounded good, and were presented with nice plates full of Romaine lettuce spears with just the right amount of dressing. There’s nothing more disappointing to me than a flavorless, waterlogged or dry Caesar salad, but this was one of the better ones I remember having, zesty, garlic-laden, and cheesy (as it happened, I sent large cheese gratels of parmesan all over the table with every spearing). In fact, come to think of it, I don’t really care that much about the actual lettuce, just give me dressing, garlic, and cheese, and don’t spare those homestyle croutons.

When entree time rolled around, several of us already had a decent amount of food under our belt, (literally) between the antipasti, calamari, and salads. Of course that wouldn’t stop us from embarking on those main courses though, some Italian leaning, some less so. IMG_1083Glenda, one of our healthier eaters, despite her love of decadent food, went with the fish special for the evening, what I think I member as being a True Cod with grilled asparagus on what looked like a bed of more chickpeas in some sort of red sauce, perhaps romescu. Between all the prom fracas, and the fact that I was a poor hostess through disuse, I never really heard what Glenda thought of her entree. David also went a not particularly Italian way (and kept kicking himself later, as he loves oodles of noodles) selecting the “Slow Roasted Pork shoulder braised in Madiera wine and shredded, served with mascarpone polenta and seasonal vegetables”. IMG_1082He said it was fine, he just wish he had tried a pasta dish instead, as it was basically just braised pork. There certainly was a large mound of it though. Shawin had a taste though, and thought it quite tasty.

Shawin went a somewhat more typically Italian way, a “Ragout of Lamb, a slow roasted and pulled leg of lamb with savory tomato and olive pesto”. She said she was quite happy with her selection, both before and after she buried it under a mountain of freshly ground black pepper.  IMG_1085As for myself, although everyone insisted they knew I was going the have the NY Strip Steak with garlic mashed potatoes, I had made a plan earlier, and was not going to have beef, I was going to have pasta. As it happens, I ordered something quite unusual for me, a fish based pasta. This is a regular item on Iorio’s menu, the Casarecci, “Fresh hand-rolled pasta with Manilla clams and kale in a spicy garlic cream sauce”. IMG_1084Only once did I have a clam based pasta and like it, on the Island of Elba, where the hotel provided limited lunch options, but this handmade pasta, which was basically decent sized wads of twisted dough, was actually quite good, and even better a couple of days later for lunch after it had been microwaved and all the ingredients had congealed.

A bit later, after the main course, the topic turned to our little prom friends, and how floozy-like they appeared. IMG_1090Then, somehow the topic changed to strip clubs, and lap dances, and how I was the only person present who had not experienced the “joys” of a strip club (the term most actively bandied around was “depressing”). Even Glenda , tasteful fashion maven that Portland Monthly recently proclaimed her, had a story of unintentionally walking into a strip club around 82nd one day (but what was that wad of dollar bills she was clutching?). Hmm, 82nd, she must have been looking for the “massage parlor” instead.

As far as more “natural” treats and desserts, Iorio had a relatively small selection, but three of four of us still managed to find something. IMG_1091The waitress, Susan, who was both personable and capable, and whose birthday it was, told Glenda Iorio’s special tart was especially good, and I think she said it was filled with something unusual like rice pudding or such (okay, I admit it, I’m a bit tardy with this review, and there are several parts of this dinner I remember almost diddley about). Glenda seemed to savor every bite. Shawin and I were following a similar train of thought, and both thought the cannoli with pistachios sounded good. As a West Coaster, I haven’t really consumed a ton of cannoli, but enjoyed the version Mama Mia’s serves the two times I ate there, allegedly one of the best in town. IMG_1089That cannoli was bigger in size, and drenched in chocolate, but about the same level of crispiness as the one Iorio serves (hard to cut with your fork without sending it flying). Iorio’s cannoli is a much more modest portion (okay, I admit in my case, size does matter in the dessert case) but was equally good in a lighter way, filled with the aforementioned pistachios and a citrus infused cream/paste. Very good, both the crunchy tube and its innards. Since it was so tasty, I would not have minded having two, but certainly didn’t need them, especially in light of the fact that these days, as always, Iorio presents each diner with a house made Italian pressed cookie at the end of the meal. Nowadays they come on a plate, but I remember in past days being presented with a cookie(s?) to go in a cellophane bag, tied with some sort of ribbon. Those bags and their assembly were probably time and money consuming, and not a particularly environmental approach, but it was nice to take your cookies home and eat them later, especially right after you finished dessert. Even so, I still appreciate Iorio’s efforts with the cookies, after all, no restaurant needs to give away free food.

That’s probably one of the best things about Iorio, it’s a friendly place full of personal touches. We talked to the owner quite extensively about the cooking classes he conducts on Saturdays, the Hostess (I think his wife) about Italian restaurant competition, and Susan, the waitress, about several topics, including our group. All were welcoming and genuine. IMG_1087The prices are on the lower end of moderate for a good quality restaurant, although at least one person found $7 a bit steep for a gin and tonic (yes, the Pink Feather this isn’t). The food at Iorio always seems good, if not necessarily dazzling like at hotspots such as Toro Bravo, but the restaurant has a good vibe, and always seems like a place worth coming back to for a hearty meal in a laid-back, welcoming environment.

Provided of course I’m allowed back. I’ve been noticing that over the last year of so, during the time our group has been struggling with attendance, and the dinners have not been as frequent, I tend to lose track of my role as official hostess. At least once I forgot to take pictures at all, and other times I am late getting the camera out and snapping. Often I forget to hand out the dining slips promptly, and on this evening, I forgot until Glenda mentioned the fact at the end of the Iorio dinner. Even with only four mouths ordering and being fed, the slips really do make paying so much easier, especially when people order numerous courses, or are like Frank and Grace (our new 3rd time parents, incidently) ordering most things on the menu. So when Glenda mentioned the missing slips, I got rather flustered, handing them out at the last second and helping Glenda figure out what she had ordered and needed to pay. At the end, I was pretty satisfied with our total, thinking we had given Susan a generous birthday tip and were good restaurant patrons (it’s sadly been a long time since we had a rowdy, disorderly group. Those could be fun, if not occasionally embarrassing times).

The rather dicey part came when I arrived home, and decided to check the funds in my wallet for the 5 days until my next payday, which I approximated at $18. Sure enough, I opened my wallet, and there, in the first pocket, was $18. It was confusing though, as my wallet seemed awfully hard to fold though, for an $18 wad. This was because the 2nd pocket contained a large stack of money, in fact, about $158 dollars in fact, the exact amount of our payment at the restaurant, minus the credit card payment. What a coincidence, huh? Well, I suppose not so much of a coincidence,  more like a fact, the fact being that instead of putting the cash in the leather billfold thingy at the restaurant, I had put it in my leather billfold thingy. And I can assure you, they didn’t even look that much alike, as Iorio’s was black, and mine is plum colored and says Fossil on it. I thought it unusual that the waitress had taken the money away so early in the payment proceedings, but for all I know, we looked shifty. Talk about a faux pas, leaving the restaurant without paying, naughty, naughty.

Anyway, although Iorio had been official closed for 45 minutes, I made a mad dash for the phone to let them know what I had done. The phone was answered by the waitress, Susan, who was actually relieved that I had ripped them off, as she thought someone had stolen the money off the table. Unfortunately, the restaurant was now closed for the next two days, and since I was not keen on putting the unpaid for food on my credit card (I refuse to put even my own food on a credit card, let alone everyone’s) I was told that the next best thing was to bring the money by the next time they were open, Tuesday evening. They were really kind and trusting about the whole situation, not even taking my phone number when I offered, so I made certain that Tuesday evening, when they opened at 5:00, I was waiting outside with my fistful of money. Hey, I may occasionally be “out of it” but I’m not dishonest.

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