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Ivano’s Will Fill You With Satisfaction

After spending a recent week on a culinary tour of North Idaho, I can easily say Ivano’s is the best restaurant in Sandpoint.

Loads of other Sandpoint restaurants have come and gone in the 13 years Ivano’s has been making its customers happy with flavorful, filling Italian meals. It’s easy to see why they are still going strong.

This family-run operation succeeds on all levels, offering immensely satisfying fare at reasonable prices (full dinners range from $7.95 to $15.95) in comfortable surroundings. The staff was attentive and congenial, keeping water glasses topped off and scouting out crayons to occupy my daughter.

The menu, which opens with a nice tribute to owner Jim Lippi’s immigrant grandfather, is organized into appetizers, pasta dishes and more substantial entrees. All meals are served with soup or salad and wonderfully fresh bread.

I only wish I had a big enough appetite to sample some of the tempting starters such as the artichokes rifatti, hearts sauteed in garlic and olive oil or the shrimp in a spicy relish. Maybe next time.

I forgot about those appetizers after being served the memorable minestrone. This vegetable-based soup actually had the consistency of a stew and it had an intense, rich flavor. It was filled with chunks of carrots, kidney beans and pasta. A big bowl was almost hearty enough to make a full meal.

The salad was better-than-the-average greens with tomatoes, cukes and pickled peppers. The house dressing, a creamy Italian, had a good tart character that helped it rise above the typically bland ranch-type dressings.

Choosing an entree was tough. There were so many mouthwatering options: the fettucine with homemade pesto sauce, the tortellini with a creamy marinara and mushrooms, the veal-stuffed cannelloni, the calamari steak sauteed in butter and finished with lemon juice and wine.

The fettucine puttanesca ($9.95) turned out to be just the dish to make me forget about the blizzard raging outside. That traditional sauce was revved up with the addition of red chili flakes, capers, anchovies and briny Kalamata olives.

Another standout meal was the Pollo Sabella ($11.95), a lightly breaded boneless chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic in a marsala wine sauce. Some sauces made with marsala can be cloyingly sweet if the wine’s cheap, but this version struck the perfect balance with both fruity flavors and a slightly bitter quality. The dish was a delight.

The only disappointment on the plate was the dull, overcooked veggies on the side - a problem that could easily be remedied.

Another minor detraction was the restaurant’s limited wine list. I appreciated having a featured wine - a chardonnay from the new Pend Oreille Winery was the showcase pour. But at $5.75 a glass, I didn’t feel like taking a chance on an unproven wine.

Also, I wish there were a few more Italian wines. Fortunately, though, the house wine was a great bargain at $8 for a small carafe and it was enjoyable.

It’s easy to linger after such a feast. The meal ended with one of the house specialities - chocolate mousse. At Ivano’s the mousse comes in two shades - dark and white. I opted for the swirl - a bit of both. The upscale pudding was featherlight, but also velvety rich. Next time, I’ll order the dark chocolate because it had a more intense flavor.

The thing I appreciated most about Ivano’s was that it made trying hard to please look so effortless.

There’s nothing trendy about the dishes at Ivano’s. The presentation isn’t flashy. But the huge portions taste like someone’s Italian grandmother made it.

And that makes the homey setting so appropriate.

The restaurant is located in a house on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood. It’s truly like walking into somebody’s home, with different dining rooms spreading out in all directions. The most recent addition is surrounded in windows, making it a blissful spot to soak up some of those rare winter rays during lunch, but in the evening, I prefer the cozy main dining room just off the kitchen.

They keep the lights dimmed, which adds to the romantic atmosphere. So dim, in fact, a table of older patrons asked that the lights be turned up so they could read the menu.

A couple of years ago, Ivano’s started offering lunch at amazingly low prices. Pasta dishes such as the simple, tasty pomodoro with tomatoes, basil and eggplant along with several sandwiches including a New York steak smothered with grilled onions and cheese are all less than $6.

, DataTimes MEMO: Ivano’s is located at 124 S. Second Ave., in Sandpoint. The restaurant is open daily for dinner and for lunch Monday through Friday. For reservations, call (208) 263-0211.

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Ivano’s is located at 124 S. Second Ave., in Sandpoint. The restaurant is open daily for dinner and for lunch Monday through Friday. For reservations, call (208) 263-0211.

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, RESTAURANT REVIEW - Checking back