Massimo: An Insider’s Look

Twice my editor has saved me from falling into complete despair after leaving Greece. Last year, it was with an application for a writing fellowship (which I didn’t get, but I had hope), and this year it was with an invitation to dine at Massimo Ristorante, at a private event hosted by the owners.

Massimo opened four months ago, at a time when I was frantically packing my life into boxes. (Thankfully, my Motif brethren had me covered, and you can read the review here motifri.com/massimo.) The same owners who brought us Pane e Vino — 14 years ago, mind you, which should be calculated like dog years — are now boasting of abNew World Italian menu with Local Flavor. And after my evening in their second floor event space overlooking Atwells Ave, I must follow up with an article of my own because when culinary talent meets cross-cultural vibes meets kindness and customer service, one cannot simply ignore it. Esther and Joe DeQuattro have accomplished all of these things in their newest restaurant child, Massimo.

The first person I met, in fact, was Esther DeQuattro, but she was so unassuming and friendly that I thought she must be a writer from another magazine. She immediately introduced me to her husband and pointed me in the direction of the cocktails, like any valiant host should.

img_1429Three cocktails lie in wait: Massimo Mimosa (surprise ingredients: pineapple juice and house made grenadine); Massimo Caiprinha (with Cachaca, or as it was described, “Brazilian rum,” Elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, muddled lime); and a Negroni, made with Malfy gin distilled from lemons off the Italian coast. I chose to drink them in the order listed, in descending sweetness, just as if I were starting with breakfast and working my way to dinner. One of the waiters, Antonio, filled me in on all of the cocktails’ ingredients, and also told me about: Drag Brunch on the 1st Sunday of every month (“The energy is just awesome”); his favorite dishes on the menu (“The arugula salad is definitely at the top,” which makes one wonder what kind of magical salad it must be); and that the best thing about working at Massimo is the people he works for. “They are just really good people,” he said. If Antonio weren’t a former coworker of mine, I would have thought he was being paid to say this, but he was just showing genuine enthusiasm for his job. That alone says wonders about how this restaurant is run.

img_1430After some cocktail indulgence, we were seated and presented with a 5-course menu to sample Massimo’s finest — complete with wine pairings and a bonus course from Pane e Vino. It was here that I learned a burrata is made by wrapping the shell of mozzarella cheese around fresh cream and shredded mozzarella. Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with freshly ground pepper, it dissolved into our mouths like a true delicacy.

At the presentation of each course, we were given a brief explanation — either by a manager, owner or chef — and it became evident that everyone involved in this restaurant has a passion for what he/she does and a sense of pride in his/her work, as they should! Each course was better than its predecessor, with surprising combinations of flavors and high quality ingredients, and in many cases, locally sourced ingredients. I discovered why Antonio loves the Arugula Salad — simply dressed in olive oil, with delicately sliced pear, a bit of spice from finocchiona, a sweet crunch from brown butter cashews and whipped ricotta (yes, you read that correctly) made this a light but satisfying appetizer.

img_1433One of the surprises for me was the Charred Octopus. I unintentionally became an octopus snob after eating it regularly in Greece, where it was pulled from the Aegean, hand-beaten against a rock, and stretched out in the sun to dry. That’s hard to replicate here in RI, but I will say that of all the octopus dishes I’ve had in New England, this was my favorite. It was in its texture: not chewy, but firm and densely flavored. There were many “Mmm’s” around the room from people who were not usually inclined to eat these cephalopods.

The penultimate course, the Bolognese, was exceptional. The same high quality Italian homemade love that keeps Pane e Vino going is present in the staple pasta dishes at Massimo. And despite it being our fifth plate, it was still portioned appropriately enough that I felt content and not overly full at its conclusion, which was important because I did not want to miss dessert: Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake.

img_1438I am not usually a fan of cheesecake, but This. Was. Amazing. Someone described it as “cheese-mousse” because it was so light, and the sweetness mixed with the lemon tartness was the perfect ending to a flawless dinner.

This is a restaurant that will henceforth draw me out of hiding and onto the Hill, and I look forward to experiencing more of Massimo Ristorante’s culinary magic.

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