Eating at a nice restaurant in Los Angeles can be a very pretentious experience. The clientele is laced with Hollywood types. The snooty wait-staff is too busy thinking about their next audition to give you proper service. And chefs are constantly trying to present their food as outlandish masterpieces. After enough restaurants, I’ve equated this with a “good” experience, because for the money I was paying, it could be nothing but. So, with this jaded mindset, I walked into Massimo Ristorante expecting more of the same. After a marvelous dining experience, I walked out with higher standards.

That is not to say the appearance of pretense is lacking. Massimo Ristorante is located in Beverly Hills, after all. In one of the dining rooms, a gigantic picture of Chef Massimo Ormani’s face gazes down from the ceiling. My initial thought was “egomania,” but after sitting down with Chef Ormani, his down-to-earth persona has convinced me otherwise. “It wasn’t my idea,” he says with a bashful laugh. The concept is actually more “cute” than anything else. Imagine being in a pot and looking up as the Chef lifts the lid to look inside and everything will click.

Like many LA restaurants, the limited real estate that Massimo Ristorante has to accommodate its guests is prohibitive, but the establishment does a fine job alleviating the claustrophobia with mirrors, windows, and a high ceiling. Guests are also welcome to enjoy their meals outside for true alfresco dining.

The wine list has a nice mix of Italian and California wines, but only a handful available by the glass. As a nice touch, however, wine by the glass is served in individual carafes allowing the guest to decide how much wine should be in his or her glass. It’s nice to see a restaurant really allow their guest to enjoy the experience of wine, rather than butcher it by over filling the glass.

The menu, which is updated monthly, is well balanced with an assortment of dishes that run the gamut of food groups. What surprised me most were the prices. Everything was reasonable with nothing over $35.

To begin, I had the Minestrone (8.50), fresh seasonal vegetables in a vegetable broth, and my companion had the Insalata Nicoletta (13.50), baby mixed greens and tomatoes with sliced artichoke hearts and a balsamic vinaigrette, named after the actress, Nicolette Sheridan, who frequents the restaurant.

For entrées, I ordered the Linguine All’Isolana (19.75), which was an assortment of seafood tossed with linguine, oregano, and a white wine sauce. My companion ordered the Gnocchi Verdi (18.50), which is Chef Ormani’s signature spinach gnocchi sautéed with porcini mushrooms.

The presentation of the dishes is simple and the flavor of the food is delicate. Neither of those comments are criticisms, just observations. For instance the linguine and the gnocchi were both served in deep bowls. No fancy drizzles decorated the rims. The clam shells were not arranged on top of my noodles in any artistic way. Not even a parsley sprig in the center. At first I was disappointed, wondering where the flair was, but then I realized that the dishes didn’t need additional fluff. The flair was in the simplicity. That comment extends to the flavor as well. Do not expect the overpowering “taste” you find in inferior sauces that are loaded with stereotypical flavors; as if to remind you that you are eating Italian.

Dessert returned me to a state of normalcy. I had the Coppa Gelato “Daniela” (8.00), hazelnut and vanilla bean gelato with fresh whipped cream and toasted almonds served in a martini glass. My companion had the Mele Insabbiate (8.00), warm apple crumble with toasted pecans and vanilla bean gelato. The presentation and the flavor were indulgent as any dessert should be.

As an added bonus, the restaurant offers cooking classes on the last Saturday of each month. Burgeoning chefs can learn from Chef Massimo Ormani in an intimate class of fifteen people, which includes a cooking demonstration, recipes, lunch, and wine.

Lastly, where would any restaurant be without a competent wait-staff? The service at Massimo is perfect. I state that with the authority of someone who has worked as a server in a fine dining restaurant. From the moment I walked in, I felt welcome. Our server, Stacey, recited the specials with expert fluency, coursed our meal with impeccable timing, and provided just enough friendly banter to convince us that we were more than a tip at the end of the meal. Those savvy enough to recognize it will find something remarkable here.

Massimo Ristorante is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Valet is available. Reservations are recommended.

Massimo Ristorante
9513 Little Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, 90210
(310) 273-7588