Joseph and Esther DeQuattro’s casual-chic Italian restaurant is a fitting companion to their other hot spot on Atwells Avenue, Pane e Vino.
ROVIDENCE, R.I. — It’s very easy to savor what Joseph and Esther DeQuattro have achieved with Massimo, their new restaurant on Federal Hill.
The food ranges from classic dishes of Fettucine alla Carbonara and Rigatoni al Forno to fun plates of Short Rib Tacos and Massimo Truffle Fries. Massimo caters to the way people eat today. Sometimes they go big and sometimes they want to pick, eating light with an arugula salad topped with prosciutto. Even the simple joy of eating a Fig and Gorgonzola Pizzette is possible here.
Diners have come to expect a lot from the couple because their other restaurant, Pane e Vino, is one of the best and busiest restaurants on the Hill. It has been, almost from the moment it opened in 2003 with its traditional Southern Italian cuisine and fine wines. But for those looking for more casual dining while still having a demanding palate, Massimo is a perfect choice.
I enjoyed two lunches there and marveled at the food that was served in a short window of time. On both visits, there was time for dessert, and those sweets upheld the excellence of the meal.
The setting, done by noted restaurant designer Kyla Coburn, is well worthy of the food. She has washed the space, which was Mediterraneo for many years, in shades of yellow, brown and beige that feel very European but totally modern.
The lighting is eye-catching, but with doors that still open to Atwells Avenue, it’s hard not to be drawn to the outdoors and the tables there.
Seating is also offered on the perimeter of the dining room, which exposes guests to the outside but keeps them in air-conditioned comfort. A second-floor space for private events, which can accommodate 200 diners, gives the restaurant a lot of seating flexibility.
Though the feel is casual, service is very much fine-dining level, with well-trained servers and plenty of staff. On both my visits, Esther was running the dining room. Joe is the executive chef. But the two are also going back and forth between both restaurants.
As I think over my lunches, I keep returning to the flavors of the Fettucine alla Carbonara. The pasta was perfectly prepared, al dente, bathed in a creamy sauce of eggs and Parmesan cheese. A beautifully poached egg sat atop the lovely dish. Every bite was sheer delight, with beautiful peas and pieces of guanciale, Italian cured pork.
I also savored the Arugula Salad with fresh greens, Prosciutto di Parma, Grana Padano cheese and the crunch of red onions all dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. It is a delightful start to any meal.
The Fig and Gorgonzola Pizzette could also be the way to start a meal or could be shared between two for a dinner. It’s long and rectangular, making for a dramatic presentation on a wooden board. It’s topped with arugula that at first hides all the fresh figs and caramelized onions. Each bite is a pleasure.
My dining companion reveled in a very different dish, and that revealed to me another strength of this menu.
Categorized on the menu as a Hand Held dish, the Short Rib Tacos were both simple and elegant with slow-braised short rib meat paired with Pecorino Toscano cheese from Tuscany and additions of crispy shallots and a dressing of horseradish sour cream. As delicious as my Carbonara with the tender meat and lovely dressing, it couldn’t have been more different but it was just as good. It was served with fries and house slaw.
On my next visit, I made sure the Massimo Truffle Fries were on the table for a salty, seasoned treat with just enough Parmesan cheese. They would pair nicely with any cocktail.
Just as fine as the Carbonara, but hearty in a totally different way, was the Rigatoni Al Forno. The sauce was the star here, rich tomato blended with cream for flavors that held up to the smoked mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheeses that were lightly baked in. Enjoy it with one of the wines recommended by your server.
Oh, the desserts here. We had an elegant panna cotta as creamy as could be and so lovely in a champagne coupe. But the cannoli was so fresh and so crispy on the outside and filled with cool, fresh cream on the inside and then dipped in chopped pistachio, it was a dream. Chocolate lovers will no doubt crave the Chocolate Flourless Torte, which is rich and delicious and layered with crushed hazelnuts and chocolate and salted caramel, which also circle the dish.
And the cappuccino was just right, too.
When a meal ends as strong as it starts, you know you’ve found a winning recipe for success.
Massimo, 134 Atwells Ave., Providence, (401) 273-0650, massimori.com and on Facebook.com/MassimoProvidence. Free valet parking. Reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Open for lunch and dinner daily, and Sunday brunch. Hours are Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. There is a seasonal cocktail menu and an international wine list.
BILL OF FARE
A lunch for two might look like this at Massimo:
Bottle sparkling water: $7.00
Short Rib Taco: $13.00
Panna Cotta: $8.00
On Twitter: @gailciampa