You can't go naming your restaurant after one of the world's greatest writers and not be aware of what you're invoking. In the case of one William Shakespeare, whether it was his poems or his plays, every action, every phrase, every word, every syllable, counted. It all added something to the finished product. In the case of Lexington's intriguing new restaurant Shakespeare and Co., the devil is definitely in the details.

However, before we get into the sights and flavors of this establishment, one of the more interesting details is where this restaurant originally began. The concept came from Dr. Edward Saad and his wife, Alyne. Shakespeare and Co., named for a Parisian bookstore that was one of Alyne's favorite hangouts, is actually a chain of restaurants that opened in 2001 in Dubai, where the restaurant has more than 15 locations in the United Arab Emirates and franchises slated to open in Syria. Having worked and lived in Lexington for many years, Saad decided make it the first U.S. location for his restaurant – one that's quite unique in terms of its looks and menu.

While some casual fine dining establishments may go for a more minimal aesthetic with the decor, Shakespeare and Co. is opulent and unabashedly over-the-top. There's always something to catch your eye, whether you're having a drink in the bar side with its Middle Eastern flair or eating and enjoying the colorful "Alice in Wonderland" playfulness of its restaurant/café side. Decorative and vintage couches and chairs replace your typical tables and booths with no two being exactly alike. It's what a restaurant looks like that spares no expense. Comfort with a WOW factor.

Once you settle in to your surroundings, the menu gives you just as much to think about. Since it serves breakfast and you can order any dish while the restaurant is opened, you can have eggs benedict or crepes at 10 p.m. or a rack of lamb at 7 a.m.

The restaurant specializes in international comfort food. Starters have some familiar favorites (calamari, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings), but you'll also find a bit of variety in dishes like the chicken satay skewers brushed with peanut sauce or the flavorful piri piri shrimp, a bright, citrusy dish with the savory heat of chili herb butter. You can get burgers, sandwiches, soups, pastas, pizzas and a variety of salads (for caprese salad fans, the buffalo mozzarella salad in a fresh-baked crispy parmesan and pistachio basket is fantastic). However, if you're like me, you're looking for something a bit different, Shakespeare and Co. has some dishes that may be as unique as its one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

While the restaurant offers several breakfast options, you can get in touch with the owners roots with its Mediterranean breakfast, which comes with grilled halloumi cheese, labneh (a very thick, strained yogurt with olive oil), halawa (a tahini-based candy) and some flat-out addictive Lebanese black olives tossed with oil and herbs. You could also go the Mediterranean route with your starter by trying its saj, a flatbread that can be filled with more native ingredients like strained yogurt or halloumi cheese or American-ized with the help of cheddar and spicy sausage.

Once you've thoroughly perused the restaurant's 28-page menu, you'll likely see some entrée staples like rack of lamb, baby back ribs, beef tenderloin and ribeye. You'll certainly feel comfortable tasting the classic flavors of their spring chicken, a grilled Cornish hen with grilled veggies, roasted potatoes, lemon confit and a rosemary sauce. However, if you want a dish that has the potential to taste different with almost every bite, go with the salmon filet. The salmon is skillfully prepared, but it's the supporting players on the plate that gives the dish its visual and flavorful appeal. Where to start? There's the braised fennel on top. There's the eggplant puree that's been charred on the grill, giving it a punch of smoke that made a believer out of this eggplant avoider. You can also dip your bite into two kinds of hollandaise (black olive or pesto) or grab some diced tomato, avocado and mango, separated by color and formed into a mini tower your almost ashamed to topple due to the care it took to create it.

And if you want to talk about a way to finish strong, order the restaurant's deconstructed carrot cake. Unlike most carrot cakes that merely serve as a vessel for overly sweet cream cheese icing, the dish is incredibly balanced. The bottom layer is a ginger short bread cookie and marscarpone cream, a second layer of carrot marmalade and raisins, and a third layer of spiced spongecake with only the tiniest hint of thyme. Fantastic.

I feel like I've really only talked about a portion of Shakespeare and Co. I haven't been able elaborate on its secluded patio (retractable roof coming soon) or its in-the-works banquet area upstairs. Then again, I also didn't mention the company's pastry and chocolate line or how this is supposed to be the first of many Shakespeare and Co.'s in North America, with the owners planning to have restaurants "from Canada to South Beach." If I had to guess, I would say this restaurant's "Co." is going to expand and include a lot of curious diners.

859.367.0411  367 West Short Street

Posted on 2012-09-01 by