Restaurant review: Trattoria Sbandati

Area’s best Italian place offers flavors you can’t find elsewhere

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Trattoria Sbandati

Location: 1444 NW College Way, Bend

Hours: 5 to close Tuesday to Saturday

Price range: Starters $8-$13, pasta $13-$22, main entrees $14-$30

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request

Vegetarian menu: Best choice is Sformato agli Asparagi, an egg-and-asparagus dish

Gluten-free menu: On request

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar with focus on Italian wines

Outdoor seating: Seasonal patio

Reservations: Highly recommended

Contact: www.trattoriasbandati.com, 541-306-6825

Scorecard

Overall: A-

Food: A-. Central Oregon’s finest Italian restaurant features flavors you can’t find elsewhere.

Service: A-. Very friendly and professional, but dishes are slowly paced. Don’t be in a hurry.

Atmosphere: A-. Cozy, with limited seating; sit away from the door to avoid cold breezes.

Value: A-. Make a meal from moderately priced pasta or go bigger with a meat entrée.

Spaghetti and meatballs are not Italian food. Ask Juri Sbandati.

At Trattoria Sbandati on Bend’s west side, you also won’t find fettucine Alfredo, chicken Parmigiana or veal Marsala on the carefully considered menu. This is not, after all, a dimly lit Italian café with red-checkered tablecloths and candles fashioned from Chianti bottles.

It does not serve New York-style Italian food. It serves the sort of cuisine you would actually find at a small, family-owned restaurant in Florence, Italy. Here you’ll get “tagliatelle ai funghi porcini,” for instance, and “merluzzo all’acqua pazza,” and the best tiramisu you’ve ever tasted.

Florence is Sbandati’s home town. The chef and food historian (he holds a doctorate) was born and raised there, and although he has resided in Bend since 2005, he remains proudly Tuscan.

Sbandati and his wife, Kinley Fitzkee Sbandati, whom he met when she was attending art school in Florence, opened Trattoria Sbandati in October 2009. The 36-seat cafe sits quietly near the corner of College Way and Newport Avenue, beside a Chevron station a few blocks from the campus of Central Oregon Community College. Florentine art and draperies give it a sense of European style.

Over the years, the restaurant has evolved as the Sbandati family has grown. Ugo, who was still in the womb when the trattoria was launched, is soon to be 5. His sister Viola is 2. Restaurant regulars know them all. “A trattoria in Italy is a place where you develop strong connections with your customers,” said Juri. (His name is pronounced YU-ree.)

Trattoria Sbandati focused for a time on prix-fixe dinners, but now serves them only occasionally, for special occasions. The café attempted lunches, but it has found its place as an a la carte dinner establishment.

From scratch

Everything at Trattoria Sbandati is made from scratch. That includes hand-made pastas, sauces, breads and soups.

There are meatballs, to be sure, but they are not the Chef Boyardee variety. Here, they are called “polpette,” and they are made according to a Sbandati family recipe with freshly ground beef, tomato sauce, melted mozzarella cheese and a side of spinach sautéed with garlic cloves.

The perfectly crafted pastas change frequently, and they sometimes include spaghetti, which Sbandati makes with no eggs, calling it “paschetti.” On a recent visit, he also served penne (tube pasta), pappardelle, tagliatelle and taglierini (ribbon pastas of varying size). When gnocchi (small dumplings) is on the menu, it has no peer in Oregon.

The menu is broken into four parts, and the Sbandatis may encourage you to sample something from each section to build your own four-course meal. Pastas are “primi,” the first course. They are preceded by “antipasti,” or starters, which include the insalata al Gorgonzola that includes roasted golden beets and walnuts. Pastas are followed by “secondi,” the second course of more traditional entrees. And then, of course, there are the “dolci,” or desserts.

Recent dinner

At a recent dinner, my companion and I shared a first course of “paschetti all’acciuga.” The spaghetti-style noodle was prepared in a light but wonderfully flavorful sauce made with Italian parsley and garlic, extra virgin olive oil, cherry tomatoes and anchovies imported directly from the Mediterranean island of Sicily, off the toe of the Italian boot. When the last bite was gone from our plate, I was still looking for more.

My second course was a “lombatina di maiale.” Loosely translated, that means “pork chop.” My thick, bone-in Kurobota chop was grilled with olive oil and seasoned with sage leaves and a house green salt. It was at once hearty and savory. But I didn’t love its starchy cannellini beans accompaniment. Something green would have been more to my taste.

That came with my companion’s entrée, “tagliata ai carciofi.” This perfectly grilled beef tenderloin was cooked medium rare, sliced thin and served upon a purée made of artichoke hearts and extra virgin olive oil. So full of flavor was the moist steak, it almost melted in one’s mouth.

We shared a dessert called a “bongo,” an Italian version of a French profiterole, or cream puff. Juri Sbandati is his own pastry chef, and he filled this very rich éclair with cream and served it with melted dark chocolate and powdered sugar.

Service, under the direction of general manager Erica Parker, was perfect. The pacing was measured, to be sure; dishes are prepared slowly with attention to detail, and courses aren’t hurried to tables. We waited about 30 minutes between delivery of our primi and secondi. But that allowed time for extra conversation and sipping the outstanding selection of premium Italian wines on the menu.

Trattoria Sbandati regularly rotates new items into the menu. Juri has promised to add another pair next week — an appetizer of smoked duck breast with arugula on a block of salt, and a primi featuring a rich sauce of bone marrow on maltagliati pasta.

Kinley Sbandati insists the latter is “one of the best flavors he’s ever made.” I can’t wait to try it.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

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