Later today, James Beard award-winning chef Chris Bianco will open the doors to Tratto, his highly anticipated new Italian restaurant located at the Town & Country shopping center in central Phoenix. The restaurant will be the chef's first to not serve pizza, but more than anything else, it will be a chance for him to give guests a new type of dining experience.
"There's an opportunity [here] that wasn't there when I started," he says.
At the 35-seat restaurant, guests can expect a small, thoughtful menu that highlights largely local ingredients. Though it sounds similar to what you'd find at Pizzeria Bianco or even the chef's sandwich shop, Pane Bianco, the chef insists this restaurant is different. You can still count on simply and classically prepared dishes executed with impeccable technique — "I don't dumb shit down for anything," Bianco says — but Tratto, at its root, is about more than just the food. While at Pane Bianco you could technically take your sandwich and eat it "on the bumper of your car," as the chef says, Tratto is intend to deliver the entire package.
It shouldn't go overlooked that each of the restaurant's tables sits under a clean, cream-colored tablecloth, giving the space a more formal air than the second location of Pizzeria Bianco next door — or any of the chef's restaurants, for that matter. Bianco says the decision to use tablecloths came after much consideration, but that in the end, he decided you "sometimes notice more" when you can see less.
And there's plenty to notice while you're sitting in the Tratto dining room. In one corner of the restaurant a collection of artworks, including paintings by the chef and his father, focuses on one subject: chairs.
"I've always had a thing for chairs," he says.
But more than being the manifestation of the chef's interest in seating apparatuses, the paintings and photos are meant to be symbols of hospitality. Bianco says he wants the chairs to express his desire that everyone have a seat at the restaurant — even when it may be near impossible to snag an actual seat at the tiny eatery.
Above the bar, which boasts a smooth Carrera marble top, you'll notice a collection of small paintings by Bianco's father, Leonardo. The chef says all were created for the new restaurant over the last year and capture the simple aesthetic of produce the chef brought to his parent's home for his mother to prepare. The lineup includes a painting of dates picked from the chef's own yard and ears of flint corn from Hayden Flour Mills.
Even the restaurant's name carries more meaning than you might initially realize. Yes, "Tratto" serves as a shortened version of "trattoria," but it's also Italian for "stretch," "stroke," "brush," or "line."
"My whole life has been surrounded by brushstrokes," the chef says, referring to his father's work as a painter and his mother's work as a bridal designer. Bianco can offer explanations for each of the word's meanings, but it's fairly easy to grasp the connection between the meaning "line" and the fact that this restaurant is the next evolution of Bianco's career.
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Now married and a father of two, Bianco admits he probably wouldn't have been interested in opening a restaurant filled with marble bar tops and tablecloths when he started Pizzeria Bianco two decades ago. But now, he says, he's created a place where diners can get a cocktail; enjoy a coursed meal of antipasto, pasta, and entree followed by a light dessert or perhaps a nice piece of cheese; and generally "treat yourself." And it shouldn't be hard to feel pampered when lingering over a plate of freshly made pasta tossed with pecorino and house-cured pancetta, or grilled whole fava beans served with flakes of sea salt and a side of earthy, aged sheep's-milk cheese.
For now, the restaurant will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. But Bianco's already playing with the idea of keeping the bar and patio open later — perhaps until midnight or 1 a.m. — so guests can stay late, enjoy a drink, and maybe a bar snack. Before he decides, he says he'll wait to see what the people want.
"I think we've been working on this my whole life," Bianco says, looking around the dining room. "I think it has a chance to be something."