Restaurant Review - Pastini Pastaria

Gluten-free menu - Was there a “gluten-free” menu available?

No. There was not a “gluten-free” menu available, but supposedly any meal can be made gluten-free. While a gluten-free menu was unavailable, the server assured me that he could cater to the needs of even the most gluten-sensitive individual. A gluten-free menu, in my opinion, is still a good idea.

Service - The server was friendly and seemed happy to meet my specific gluten and dairy free requests however he didn’t seem to be overly knowledgeable in the area of gluten sensitivities. After notifying the server of my extreme reaction to gluten (which I do with every review to ensure that each server understands that he/she should be taking proper steps to keep my meal gluten-free) he did opt to double-check the soup of the day for both gluten and dairy. I did question the meat items on the menu (these commonly contain gluten) and was informed that the meatballs were the only item containing gluten. It was a typical busy lunch hour; so understandably, the server was unable to go into further explanation of the steps taken to ensure my meal would be gluten-free.

Knowledge- At the time that I ordered my meal I can’t say I had a ton of confidence in the likelihood of 100% gluten-free meal with no cross-contamination during preparation. After all, Pastinis IS a bread and pasta restaurant. However, while preparing to leave the establishment, I was able to speak briefly with the manager (Steve) who did take a few minutes to educate me on the restaurant’s strict procedures with gluten-free meal preparation. Steve informed me that they use designated utensils for the non-gluten dishes and prepare the gluten-free pasta in a completely separate space from the regular pasta. After mentioning I was a physician and that I would be conducting a gluten-free review on his establishment, he even recommended I email the head of marketing as well as himself to set up a time to meet and allow me into the kitchen to learn more about the procedures taken to prevent cross contamination, and ensure their food is safe for gluten-sensitive diners. These invitations are always a good sign as it shows they have nothing to hide.

Safety of Food- Although I initially had my doubts that my meal would actually be 100% gluten-free (simply based on the type of restaurant I was at) I must admit that after being given a thorough tour of the kitchen, my confidence in this restaurant increased dramatically. I was impressed by the fact that all gluten-free dishes are marked with a toothpick “Italian flag” to avoid confusion by servers when brought to the table. I don’t believe I have seen this technique before and it is a wonderful precaution to prevent mix-ups. I should also mention that Pastinis is a small chain with eight other locations that supposedly all implement identical systems in their diners to assure that each location is providing a safe gluten-free dining experience. I believe this is promising for gluten-sensitive individuals when traveling outside of Bend.

Taste and Cost/Serving Size - The taste of my pasta dish was FANTASTIC and the cost was very reasonable. With that said, I must admit that I am a bit of a big portion guy, and would have liked a little more substance to go with my oversized plate. I was also a tad let down that a gluten-free bread option was not available. Because I was dining with my office manager, neither of us ended up having bread as she didn’t want to enjoy her non gluten-free bread in front of me. Personally, the bread thing really wouldn’t be a big deal for my wife and I, as we do follow the Paleo diet very closely. However I understand that for the growing population of individuals with gluten sensitivities, a gluten-free bread option would certainly be a nice addition to the menu and most likely wouldn’t be too difficult to implement.

Overall Experience - The overall experience was good. As mentioned, I was invited back by the manager for an off hours tour of the kitchen. At that time, I met the head chef, Jason, who was very knowledgeable about gluten sensitivities and allergen avoidance in food preparation. Jason took me through the steps taken to avoid the potential for accidental cross-contamination. The gluten-free pastas are made first thing in the morning in clean pots and then packaged in special “labeled” bags and stored in the fridge until a gluten-free option is ordered. There was even a grill that was strictly for grilling bread. While the deli meat possibly had gluten in it, it was in a separate location designated for sandwich preparation and would not be included in any GF meal. All Salads are prepared GF and any croutons are added after salads have been made. My only concern was a bread crumb container that was just a little too close to the spinach by my standards. Upon stating my concern, they immediately informed me that they would gladly move the container. Also, because there was no “Gluten-Free” menu, I did suggest creating one, and Jason even suggested adding a GF symbol in front of all of the GF options on the current menu. The manager agreed and said that he would get to work on this idea as soon as possible. I give Pastini Pastaria 4.5 Stars, and would recommend the Bend location for those with a gluten sensitivity. In my educational talk with the manager and head chef, I did emphasize the importance of treating every individual ordering GF as if they could have the worst possible reaction imaginable.