I've been doing a fair amount of celebrating recently. I've had a birthday come and go and new job prospects on the horizon. Between those and a trip home, I've had several charming chances to eat at lovely restaurants. Unfortunately (for this blog), many of them were in Kansas.
Before departing for the Sunflower State, though, I had a glorious birthday dinner at Eugene's newest sit-down Italian restaurant, Osteria Sfizio in the Oakway Center. It's taken the place of the wine/sandwich deli that used to be there, but the new place is nothing like the old. You walk in to a restaurant full of cozy wooden tables, with a half-square bar that offers, from one side, a view of the kitchen (and from the other, a view of their substantial bar). We made reservations; the night we were there, a weeknight, wasn't too crowded, though, so I wonder if they're always necessary. They can be made online, which is pretty handy.
This was a several course meal for us. We started with the skinny, complimentary breadsticks they bring and the Prosecco Punch Pitcher, a sparkling, citrusy wonder that I will have again. At $15, it seems steep -- but it's meant for 2, and it kept us delightfully drinking all through dinner. Considering that all of the other specialty cocktails run from $7 to $10 a glass, this is actually a bargain. (Get it! Get it!)
For appetizers, we faced a host of tantalizing choices: hazlenuts with smoked salt? Heirloom tomato and watermelon salad? Meat balls with eggplant caponata? Grilled lamb's tongue (seriously)? But we stayed true to my vegetarian roots and had the highly recommended Burrata Mozzarella with Heirloom Tomato and Basil ($10) and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar ($3). The bread was of two varieties and uniformly soft-centered and crunchy-crusted; the balsamic was bright and wonderful with a tangy, oaky sweetness. And oh, oh, oh, the burrata plate. It was amazing: tomatoes cut thick and so ripe they were nearly purple, layered with large, fresh basil leaves. To the side, though, was the food we haven't stopped talking about since we went there: the fresh burrata mozz. Oh, my god, the freshness. It was creamy, so soft it was a challenge to scoop up, but the reward was a melt-in-your mouth, heavy, creamy cheese that was more flavorful than most straight-up mozzarella. (Burrata is a mozzarella frame around a center of cheese and cream, making it a softer, sweeter cheese).
After that, we threw genuine Italian eating intentions out the window and both ordered pastas (Primi) for our main dishes. C went with a plate of chard-and-ricotta stuffed ravioli served with a light oil sauce and a few cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes had been cooked whole to nearly bursting, and were so light and sweet that when they did break apart in your mouth, it was a flood of fruity goodness. The ravioli -- on C's half-order, there were about 6 large squares on his plate -- were tender and fresh, with not much bite from the pasta shells but plenty of flavor from the filling.
I, however, won the night with my rigatoni. Just a simple tomato ragu tossed with big, hollow noodles and mixed with fresh mozzarella, baked and presented in a heaping bowl. I had a half-order and it was enough for a meal; if this hadn't been so good, I wouldn't have finished. Oh, and since it was my birthday, we had a plate of sauteed sweet corn in thyme butter on the side. I may have proposed marriage. (If we'd ordered the creamy polenta, well, I'd probably still be there in some kind of indentured servitude arrangement).
Halfway through the meal, I announced my intention to eat at Osteria Sfizio every night; further on, I declared my intention to never eat again, except for the handful of (again, complimentary) cookies that the waitress brought at the end of our meal.
Our waitress was one of the better parts of the meal. She was friendly, full of good advice, attentive even when it was clear we wouldn't be ordering from every part of the menu (there's an entire Secondi section we didn't touch, though I think C would like to go back and try the pork loin, or maybe the rabbit). Our table was next to the open outer door, a garage door of glass that can be lifted on nice nights to allow for outdoor seating. The Oakway patio scene isn't terribly formal, but you won't feel out of place at Sfizio if you wear your business-casual or your off-to-the-symphony dress. (You might, however, feel out of place in flip-flops).
Our total for the night was in the $50 range, but that included both apps, the drinks, the side, and the sizable half-plates of pasta. You could escape from Sfizio for right at $15 a person with a comfortable meal and a drink or one of their tempting sides. But why -- when celebrating -- would you want to?
Hours: Mon-Thur. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sat & Sun Brunch 11:30-2:30 p.m.
Location: 105 Oakway Center
Notes: Reservations recommended, and accepted online.