Massimo il Ristorante breaks all of the rules. Sanur has more than 100 restaurants, some are busy, others not. Massimo, at the southern end of Danau Tamblingan is by far the largest restaurant in Sanur and, amazingly, also the busiest. Peak times without a prior reservation and a wait for a table is almost always necessary.
Why is this humble Italian eatery so popular?
The charismatic, always smiling, Massimo is in attendance day and night to welcome new and old friends alike. His enthusiasm and passion about his food spreads. The food could be called ?comfort food?, the only surprises are pleasant ones. Massimo is from Lecce and features many regional specialties from there on the menu.
Where is Lecce, I hear you ask?
It is a city at the base of Italy's heel, just before the boot that kicks Sicily into the Mediterranean [in the words of that old school-kid chant].
Amongst a standard comprehensive Italian menu, Massimo began by including a handful of dishes from his own region of Lecce. Mainly pasta, it was of unusual shape and size, which the experts tell us, provides totally different tastes. Sagne Ncannulate is a special fettuccine, Lecce style. It is thinner, and more delicate, than the normal one and that causes it to curl. Cu lla Recotta Scante is with lamb with spicy ricotta [a hint of chilli] in tomato sauce. For a different taste sensation, sprinkle with grated Goat's cheese, instead of Parmesan.
Also from Lecce is the Pittole, with which you are presented soon after ordering your meal. They are made from pizza dough and deep-fried. The result is light tasty mini dumplings that arrive at your table piping hot! Impossible to leave alone, or even wait to cool!
I think they have their own pure dialect of Italian in Lecce as well, or is it a different language? Mbrigghiatieddhi de Carne e Prumitori [try saying that either drunk or sober] is an unusual but very tasty dish, beef rolled around ham and pecorino, with parmesan [pictured], and one that I often order. That used to be the extent of the Lecce influence on the menu but popular demand has changed that and there are now many more regional dishes. Now many other Lecce style pastas, as well as the more conventional ones, are offered at Massimos most of which combine tomato, garlic and chilli. Linguini cu lli Caurri also has fresh crab, Rechitelle cu lli Broculli e lla Saussicca has sausage meat and broccoli, whilst the Lecce Gnocchi [Gratinati] has a sauce of 4 different cheeses.
Pasta dishes feature on almost every menu in Bali. Sometimes I think that 'Handmade on the Premises' is in fact a new brand on a cellophane pack. Sadly, too often the resultant over-cooked offering is like chewing dried rope. Too many non-Italian chefs seem to think that ?al dente? is a city in Italy! Order pasta at Massimo's and you will think you are back in Italy. Tortellini Prosciutto e Funghi [beef stuffed pasta topped with mushrooms], and Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci alla Piemontese [spinach and ricotta pockets of pasta with a butter and sage sauce] are both perfect! Plump sachets stuffed with fillings. Others include Penne Salmone Norvegese e Mascarpone Italiano [Norwegian Salmon with 'Mascarpone' Cheese], and Gnocchi al Gorgonzola [potato dumplings with a wonderful creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce].
Back on the main menu, start with something simple? There are a number of unusual Bruschette; topped with a creamy mix of squid and shrimps, or with ricotta cheese and grilled sausage [also from Lecce]. Soups combine the ones you expect to find: Minestrone, Mushroom and the more unusual Stracciatella [vegetable but with whisked eggs added], or a pasta soup from Lecce, a creamy mix with potato, bacon and Parmesan skin.
Risotto is often a disaster in Bali, as elsewhere outside of Italy! At Massimo, the Risotto Salsiccia e Funghi is magic! Arborio rice, of course, but also the right kitchen techniques, combined with chunks of sausages and mushroom. Even if you think you dislike Risotto, do yourself a favour and try this one! As it is only made to order, it takes 20 mins [18 actually, plus 2 minutes to get to your table], but well worth the wait.
The mains at Massimo include Tournedos alla Massimo [thick medallions of beef with prosciutto, mushrooms and pate], Filetto al Gorgonzola, grilled beef, with that wonderful cheese sauce again. Petti di Pollo Burro e Salvia is so simple, just tender chicken breasts in sage butter. Whilst Chicken Breast, Lecce style, is a deep-fried breast with ginger-balsamic on rucola and pachino. All the old favourites are here as well, Scaloppine and Saltimbocca included.
A full pizza menu is also available, to have at the table or to take away from the street side counter where they are prepared and fired in their special pizza oven. The pizzas come in all sizes and from every region of Italy.
For dessert a special sweet pizza or that wonderful Marscapone Nougat Cream with a black pepper chocolate sauce, or finish off with one of their kitchen made fruity gelatos, also sold at street-side, at the restaurant entrance.
The spacious layout of this restaurant assures a relaxed privacy at all times, even with a happy band of Italians present! The good wine list includes many Italian specials [Chianti of course].
For the local people of Sanur, and those who wish to travel for quality, how comforting to know there is somewhere you can always rely on! There is also a variety of Italian bread baked on the premises. It is available at a special counter inside the restaurant, close to the kitchen entrance. It comes out of the wood-fired ovens at 12 midday, daily.
However the challengers continue and not only does Massimo produce Bali?s most popular gelato but now also has a dedicated cheese room where many of Italy?s cheese styles are re-produced. This you can now enjoy without the expense of buying an imported product. They are available at leading supermarkets and delicatessens, as is the Massimo brand pasta.
Massimo is an important contributor to the Bali food scene.