When Manuel Niny dos Santos was a 5-year-old boy in Portugal, his mother opened a restaurant in the national capital of Lisbon.
“It was called Faz Figura, which means, ‘Make a gesture,’” Manuel recalled. “She was a great cook, and her restaurant was very famous in Lisbon. She served gourmet traditional Portuguese food. Even the president of Portugal ate there.”
Senhora dos Santos had the restaurant for only two years before Manuel’s father, a career naval officer, was transferred to an embassy post in Washington, D.C. But the memories remained.
“I especially remember how the chefs always hooked me up with desserts,” Manuel said. “But I never thought that someday I’d have a restaurant of my own.”
Now 42, Manuel permanently moved to the United States at the age of 18 to attend university in California. He majored in science and mathematics, then followed his sister Joana north to Bend, where both found spouses.
Manuel fell into the restaurant business because his wife’s parents owned a Sunriver restaurant, Marcello’s. Together, they opened their own Sunriver restaurant — named Café Sintra to honor the seaside Lisbon suburb in which young Manuel grew up — and expanded to downtown Bend in 2004.
Following a divorce, Manuel kept the Bend restaurant, where he continues to serve breakfasts and lunches. (It’s open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; learn more on Facebook or at www.cafesintra.com.)
“Although we definitely cater to the general public, we like to incorporate Mediterranean flavors as much as possible,” Manuel said. “We import Portuguese sausages and cheeses, and we have a Portuguese stew on the menu that is very popular.”
Café Sintra has also become a center for the region’s throng of international soccer fans, who gather for televised matches throughout the “futbol” season.
Dos Santos and Tracie Peterson, who now owns Café Sintra in Sunriver, will serve a double dose of Sintra cuisine on Saturday (Aug. 13). Sintra is one of 19 Central Oregon restaurants participating in the Ghost Tree Invitational at Sunriver’s Crosswater Golf Course (www.ghosttreeinvitational.com).
On Sintra’s menu are a seafood gazpacho, an inspired version of a shrimp ceviche; and a pork rib with “an incredible marinade that we just came up with,” Manuel said.
If you are one of the 1,300 guests expected at Ghost Tree this weekend, don’t be surprised if you see celebrities like actors William Devane and Dennis Haysbert, and athletes Gary Payton and Amy Acuff, hanging out at the Café Sintra booth. They are part of the host of luminaries attending the annual three-day charity event.