Lauro tries out a new special on its menu: reservations
Everyone's appearance needs some maintenance now and then. People go in for teeth whitening, brow waxing or a new haircut. Restaurants are the same.
Lauro Kitchen (3377 S.E. Division St., 503-239-7000, www.laurokitchen.com), which opened in 2003, underwent a mini-face-lift in January.
The spiffing-up included new light fixtures, a refinished bar and countertops, the installation of a much-needed heavy curtain at the entrance to protect diners from wind, new copper tabletops, totally remodeled bathrooms and a paint job. It's all dolled up.
But Lauro's new and improved appearance isn't the only change at the popular eatery. After almost five years of welcoming diners on a first-come, first-serve basis, Lauro will accept reservations.
Tax day, April 15, is the first day for which you can make a reservation. Call the restaurant, 503-239-7000, any day between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to reserve a table. And, in about a month, you'll be able to reserve tables on the Lauro Web site.
David Machado, who owns Lauro Kitchen as well as Vindalho (2038 S.E. Clinton St., 503-467-4550, www.vindalho.com), says the reservation change 'just makes sense.'
'I'm not claiming to have invented the box-shaped restaurant with the open kitchen, but the truth is, when Lauro opened, there weren't many other places like it. Not neighborhood places. Now the city is full of them - Country Cat, Toro Bravo. People have a lot of options.'
Lauro's 'no reservation model' made sense when there was less competition, Machado says, but 'it would be stupid for me to stubbornly stick to that model, to go down with the ship with it.'
And, Machado adds, when he started accepting reservations at Vindahlo in 2006, less than a year after it opened, business increased almost immediately. 'There are a certain number of people who don't want to go anywhere without a reservation. We've missed out on those customers at Lauro.'
It's a great time to visit Lauro. Machado calls Lauro's chef de cuisine, Jennifer Buehler, and its general manager, Julie Chambers, 'the dynamic duo.'
'I don't know of any other Portland restaurant with women running the kitchen and the dining room,' Machado says.
Since graduating from Western Culinary Institute, and after a brief stint at Mint, Buehler has worked at Lauro for three years. Under Buehler, the focus of Lauro's Mediterranean menu has expanded to include cuisine from Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Greece.
I recently had deliciously tender, grilled lamb kebobs served over piquant tabbouleh at the restaurant. My favorite dish was a bubbling bowl of bright pink roasted shrimp in a rich sauce of tomatoes and creamy feta with ouzo.
Chambers started as Lauro's general manager last June, but she's known Machado since she worked for him as a server several years ago at Pazzo. Before moving back to Portland last year, she worked at Mario Batali's restaurant, Lupa, in New York City, first as a server, then as manager.
Chambers, whom I've known for several years since she went to high school with one of my sisters, runs a friendly and efficient ship at Lauro. The service at the restaurant is better than ever.
Machado's other big Lauro news is especially exciting for me since I'm always lamenting the fact that there aren't enough nice restaurants open for lunch in Portland. Starting June 3, Lauro will open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Lauro is open for dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Make a reservation if you prefer, but walk-ins are still welcome, too.
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Turn off the television and skip '60 Minutes' on Sunday (it's usually depressing anyway). Instead, pamper yourself with a winemaker dinner in Bluehour's elegant private event space, L'Heure Bleue (1220 N.W. Everett St., 503-226-3394).
A few of the items on chef Kenny Giambalvo's amazing-sounding menu are Dungeness crab cakes with spicy aioli, Maine lobster flan with haricots verts, pan-seared squab breast and stuffed spring lamb loin with sweet peas.
The dinner will be paired with five wines (from J. Christopher Wines of West Linn), which Giambalvo declares 'delicious, very serious wines, yet quite restrained.' Jay and Rhonda Somers ofJ. Christopher Wines will be in attendance.