by Steve Lanning

What do you want for dinner tonight? Italian, Greek Middle Eastern? Or how about something totally different? How about culinary fusion? Hybrid dishes that combine flavors and recipes from places like Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, and the Middle East? How about a restaurant whose specials might include a dinner called "Lamb Meatballs over Israeli Couscous?"

Well, such cross-Mediterranean delicacies can be found at a new restaurant called Lauro. Their dishes are the food-children of head chef David Machado, formerly of Pazzo Ristorante and the Southpark Seafood Grill & Wine Bar. At Lauro, Machado is taking his expertise further, cooking original dishes in fresh olive oil and seasoning with spices that will keep you guessing.

Consider the Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast with Quince Sauce. Served on a bed of moist spinach, golden raisins, and pine nuts, the breast is topped with a caramelized sauce made from quinces, a long lost cousin of the apple or pear. And while the quince sauce drizzled on top of the breast might stimulate your sweet taste buds, when combined with the layer of creamy goat cheese stuffed inside the chicken, your mouth registers a rich and tangy harmony of flavors.

Another winner is the Greek Lamb Kebobs with Saffron Rice Pilaf and Tzatziki Sauce. Interknit with strips of fresh mint and gently showered with tzatziki, the succulent chunks of lamb are dynamite, but almost dwarfed by the uncommon, perfume flavor of the rice.

But perhaps the highlight of my meal came from the menu's appetizer section. Lauro's highly palatable Mediterranean Mussels swim in a zingy and spicy tomato sauce, with onions, peppers, and pepperoni. And the Crispy Calamari, salty and lightly fried, almost seems like it was born to marry the fiery Portuguese Piri Piri Sauce.

Similar to the menu's integration of different ingredients and styles, the interior design of the restaurant joins a variety of contrasting, yet complimentary building materials. Visible wooden beams stand out against the kitchen, which is walled and surfaced with silver steel. The large mirror behind the full bar, and the large windows lining the building, give Lauro an open and spacious feel.

If all of this favorable description has not convinced you to give Lauro's a try, save your dollars until you see some of chef Machado's recipes executed firsthand at a demonstration at the Portland Farmer's Market (September 6th at 11:00 am). He'll reveal some of the methods, ingredients, and spices that go into Lauro's food, giving you a free opportunity to decide whether or not it's your bag.

Moreover, though many great restaurants offer quality Lebanese, Spanish, or Italian around town, I've never come across anything quite like Lauro. In fact, I like the dishes so much that I've decided to incorporate the restaurant in a screenplay I'm writing. The main character is a masked hero who eats at the restaurant, wears all black, and carries a sword. The movie is called The Mask of Lauro.