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May 27, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Massimo's

Restaurant Review: Massimo's

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By William Mancebo

Dining at Massimo's is always a total culinary experience for the senses, so I was more than happy to return for dinner with my husband and son. The outside facade of the restaurant and surrounding storefronts were upgraded and painted a few years ago, giving the area a fresh modern appeal. As you enter, you might be lucky to be greeted by Marie, the matriarch of the restaurant, whose late husband opened Massimo's in 1976. Eldest son Bill is the proprietor, having been involved in the business for many years.

We were seated at a cozy and elegant leather banquette booth. Massimo's is tastefully decorated with paintings and mirrors. The tables are set with white linen tablecloths and maroon-colored linen napkins and the lighting is subdued which adds to the sociable, relaxing and romantic atmosphere.

Almost immediately, a basket of warm sliced garlic bread and glasses of water, containing refreshing lemon slices, were placed before us. During the course of the meal, our glasses were refilled often and additional baskets of French bread and bread sticks were served, without ever having to ask.

Of course, what excited my son most was discovering Massimo's had free WiFi, so he could access his iPod Touch while dining. Noting the economic downturn, Massimo's is making some changes and additions. "We are working with the times and adjusting creatively," says owner Bill Rinetti. "For example, at lunchtimes, people are in more of a hurry, so we are offering a 'Quick Lunch' at a faster pace and some special lunch menu items."

Many of the staff have worked at Massimo's for a while, and experience shows in making the whole dining experience a pleasure. Our server, Ted Lick, welcomed us, giving us time to review the menu before explaining the evening's special entrees, not listed on the regular dinner menu. We decided to stray from our usual favorite choices of homemade pasta and veal dishes to try the new specials.

Steve Nichols, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, has recently taken over as head chef, after working at Massimo's for eight years.

Rinetti wanted to offer a fresh perspective, new ideas, and original menu items. "Chef Nichols is a step ahead and more eclectic than our previous chefs," he said. "He is introducing lighter fare and has a California nouvelle approach to food with a southwestern flair for spices."

They continue to serve the traditional Italian and continental dishes that Massimo's is noted for across the country.

For my main entrŽe, I ordered the coriander dusted halibut, topped with toasted almonds and a pineapple/cranberry relish. My husband selected the other special, lamb stew, while our son decided on the charbroiled salmon.

To start off, we chose Massimo's famous Caesar salad, which is prepared from scratch at your table. But before our salad was completed, Ramon Garcia, the popular dining room manager, decided to make his "special shrimp appetizer" in honor of my husband's birthday. If you become friendly with the manager, you might be lucky enough to have him prepare this for you one day. He pulled up a mobile cooking cart right next to our booth and heated the pan, in which he prepared the shrimp with lemon, butter, garlic, cream and wine. They were creamy and decadent, with just a tangy hint of lemon.

We agreed that all our entrees were winners. Massimo's is known for the care they take with the food and its preparation. My halibut was light, flaky, and moist. I never realized that halibut could be this tasty. The relish of chopped pineapple and cranberries was lightly sprinkled over the fish and added an appealing and slightly tart yet not too sweet dimension to the dish. This was served on a bed of whipped potatoes, infused with a hint of pureed roasted red pepper and accompanied by a variety of fresh vegetables cooked al dente.

My husband ate his lamb stew, the other special that evening, with gusto. Juicy chunks of lamb were submerged in a thick, tasty sauce cooked together with carrots, Brussels sprouts, peas, pearl onions and raisins for sweetness. My husband's 2005 St. Francis Merlot was full-bodied, fruity and complex. Being the designated driver, I stuck with iced tea.

My son enjoyed the charbroiled filet of salmon, tender in a butter and caper sauce. As usual, he didn't eat his vegetables!

While relaxing before dessert, we decided to check out the large cocktail lounge with its flat-screen TVs and cozy seating. For future reference, Massimo's has a popular "Happy Hour," Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. A long-time patron, Eddie Kirchen (aka "Fast Eddie"), is terminally ill and in tribute, Rinetti has erected a plaque in the bar area that Eddie frequented for over 29 years.

Massimo's also has three banquet rooms suitable for weddings, bar mitzvahs, business conferences, meetings or birthday parties. Rinetti showed us the new audio/visual projector with large screen, Direct TV/HD quality and surround sound; great for parties or work-related events. Plug in your laptop and the presentation is ready to go!

Returning to our booth, my husband chose his favorite dessert, a homemade tiramisu. The Italian specialty cake is made with ladyfingers dipped in espresso and covered in a whipped mixture of egg whites, mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa and liqueur. I had a deliciously smooth cheesecake and our son, the spumoni three-flavored ice cream. We ordered two coffees and a hot chocolate to complete the meal.

After being graciously thanked for our patronage, we paid our check, not outrageous in comparison to what you receive in return. Massimo's offers that personal touch with incredible service, attention to detail, delicious food and ambience. The evening came to an end, but I know we'll return soon.

Massimo's
5200 Mowry Avenue, Suite M, Fremont
Reservations: (510) 792-2000 or www.opentable.com
www.massimos.com

Lunch: Tuesday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday - Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (closed Sunday)

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