Ensenada’s Restaurant Scene: Il Massimo Cucina Italiana

This week we visited Ensenada’s newest authentic Italian food establishment; it’s a small, fresh and well-lit restaurant called Il Massimo Cucina Italiana, brought to us by owner and chef Massimo Zaretti, born in Rome, Italy, and raised there until his family migrated to California when he was 13 years old.

This is his first restaurant, although he is no stranger to the restaurant business, he grew into the restaurant business as his father was a successful restauranteur until his retirement, and Massimo himself has amassed more than 20 years’ experience working in such prestigious restaurants around the world as the St. Regis in Thailand, the Grand Hyatt in Singapore, the Hilton in Tokyo, The Wolfgang Puck Catering in Vegas and many more.

His cuisine evokes the freshness of the Mediterranean Sea, which is reflected all-around in the classy setting he offers his clients, an ambiance embellished with bright colors and pictures of Italian seas and Rome.

As we entered the restaurant, Massimo opened the door and greeted us, checking in with us and other clients during our dinner.

The wine list offers a small but reasonably priced selection of local wines from our valleys, which Massimo says will be expanding as he gets to know more of the local wines. You can always bring your own bottle of wine by paying a service fee of $8 USD or buy one bottle from his list and he will waive that extra fee for the one you brought.

My wife and I started our dinner with a couple of delicious mini-Caprese appetizers, freshly made pesto and bread that was brought to us, on the house, while we waited for our real appetizers: Tentacolo di Polpo which are octopus tentacles marinated and lightly fried in olive oil, accompanied with fried leek slices. I have tried variations of this appetizer in different places around Baja and I will have to say that these were the best, crispy on the outside and tender and flavorful on the inside.

Since we liked the mini-Caprese we decided to go for a full-size one which traded the halved cherry tomatoes for slices of locally grown heirloom tomatoes and basil, fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of Pesto, very refreshing.

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For main dishes we decided to go with the pasta, choosing the Cannelloni al Forno, which are made-from-scratch cannelloni filled with a mixture of ricotta, spinach and béchamel sauce covered in an incredibly delicious marinara sauce with cheese; you can’t go wrong with these!

We finalized our meal with a Panna Cotta de Rosa, which melts in the mouth leaving a delicious rose aftertaste, and Massimo’s own Tiramisu made with Nutella and banana slices instead of the usual coffee and cocoa flavors.

At the end of your meal, the staff will serve you one of the house’s aperitifs, which depending on what is planned for the day, could be limoncello, arancello or chocolate liquor.

The recently opened Il Massimo is going straight to the top of my authentic Italian restaurant’s list. Not only does this place offers great food at very reasonable prices (entrees go from $9 to $13 USD), but they offer great service, something that is not always easy to find around here.

Il Massimo is open Tuesday to Sunday from 1 PM to 10 PM and is located in Boulevard Costero #987 right next to Subway. Reservations can be made by calling (646) 977-7089. Parking space is available alongside the restaurant.

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