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The Joy of Cooking: A taste of Tuscany with Sbandati spirit 

A taste of Tuscany with Sbandati spirit.

click to enlarge sbandati_ravioli.jpg
Everything about chef Juri Sbandati makes an impression, from his flaming red chef coat and playful demeanor to his enormous talent in the kitchen. After years working as a private chef and caterer in and around Central Oregon, it's no wonder that his new restaurant, Trattoria Sbandati, opened with a built-in following. Not only is his authentic Tuscan cuisine spectacular, but his very presence radiates good cheer. Stewarded by Sbandati's charming wife Kinley, the intimate space in La Rosa's old spot on College Way is as warm and inviting as the food it serves. But when Juri comes out to greet his liege of loyal patrons, which he does frequently, the room lights up.

With just a single seating prix fixe dinner ($50 per person) Thursday through Saturday and room for around 40, reservations are required and can be hard to come by. But persevere. The experience is exceptional from beginning to end and an incredible value despite the higher price tag. Designed to be savored, not rushed, like an evening meal in Sbandati's native Florence, the four courses with wine pairings roll out at a leisurely pace, each building on and playing off the last.

A recent visit began with thin slices of a delicious mortadella, the Italian predecessor to bologna, even before the first course was underway. The antipasti followed: Three Tuscan-style bruschette, one soaked with olive oil and garlic, one topped with cannellini beans, and one with sautéed spinach. They were a great start and an excellent match for the crisp Montevelini Prosecco. Next came the primi, Canneloni coi Funghi, paired with a lovely light red, Langhe Nebbiolo Filippo Gallino. The delicate handmade pasta filled with a wild mushroom puree and topped with sautéed chanterelles and a creamy béchamel sauce melted on the tongue. The secondi, Spalla di Maiale, was a nice progression, from subtle and sublime to big and bold. The rich, tender pork shoulder slow-braised in red wine and herbs and served over a creamy potato puree was a wonderfully balanced dish and worked very well off the Rosso Ciliegiolo Sassotondo, a fuller-bodied red. The meal closed with nutty biscotti served with a white dessert wine. Biscotti is not my favorite, but this was far more moist and palatable than the dry bricks you often get elsewhere. Service was impeccable, and absolutely everything was squarely on point.

The dinner menu changes weekly, so new revelations await each visit. But if a $50 prix fixe isn't feasible for you on a regular basis, Sbandati's lunch Tuesday through Saturday is of equally stellar quality at more down-to-earth prices. Along with daily specials, the menu features soups, panini, pastas and salads that range from $8 to $13 per plate. The pork ragu over fresh tagliatelle, a recent special, was superb, as were homemade ravioli filled with a creamy spinach puree drizzled with olive oil and topped with shaved parmesan cheese. But the Polpette, a Sbandati signature dish, will haunt me. I would eat those perfectly seasoned and textured meatballs covered in red sauce and melted mozzarella with sautéed spinach every single day. If you're feeling indulgent, finish off the meal with the tiramisu. It may be my favorite version to date. Not too sweet and served in a cup rather than on a plate, it was more cream than cake and couldn't have been better. Also on its way is the addition of a deli counter of classic Italian meats and cheeses, so you can take a taste of Tuscany home with you.

As much as Juri Sbandati had already built a reputation among his private clients, I feel fortunate that he has decided to set up shop and share his talents with the rest of us. For a sumptuous supper or a languid lunch, Trattoria Sbandati is unparalleled when it comes to authentic Italian food in the area and among the best I've had anywhere. It is not to be missed.

Trattoria Sbandati

1444 NW College Way, 306-6825

Lunch, Tues.-Sat.; dinner,
Thurs. - Sat., 7 p.m. seating


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