Heavenly gelati, homemade and close to home

In a small cafe, Massimo’s  Delectibles sells original flavors so good it’s hard to believe you’re not in the other Venice
By Linda Burum, Special to the Los Angeles Times.

Massimo Moro is a man obsessed with gelato. Every afternoon, once his Italian pastries and hand-dipped truffles have been lined up in their cases at his Marina del Rey pastry shop, Massimo’s Delectables, the Milan-born pastry chef heads for the gelato kitchen behind the bakery’s work area. There, he and an assistant crank out silky gelati destined for Massimo’s Gelato, Moro’s old-fashioned artisanal gelateria and cafe about 10 minutes away in Venice.

Massimo’s Gelato is as charming as any neighborhood gelateria you might stumble across in Florence or suburban Milan. Pale ocher walls amplify the sunlight as it floods the long, narrow room. A display case by the entry holds vividly colored gelati and sorbetti in rectangular tubs lined up like watercolors in a paint box. Next to it is a pastry case (sometimes a bit depleted by late afternoon).
Unceremoniously stashed in the upright freezer case, along with gelato packed to go, you might find a few of Moro’s gelato fancies. The bomba is a ball of chocolate gelato coated with confectioner’s chocolate with a nugget of raspberry sorbetto inside. The Livornese, a coffee-soaked cake topped with coffee gelato, comes with frozen zabaglione foam. Triangles of kiwi and mango gelati sandwiched around orange-flavored sponge cake make up the Capri.

Assembling these takes a bit of legerdemain. Moro must keep three freezers at different temperatures in his workroom to hold the desserts as they progress through different stages of assembly. But like the pastries he’s baked since his boyhood, fashioning them is almost second nature to him. . Like hand-woven cloth or pottery from a wheel, Massimo’s are stamped with the owner’s unique touch.

Many gelaterie just use imported gelato base mixes, but Moro prefers to create his own flavors. He learned his craft at some of Milan’s most elegant pastry shops, which often double as gelato shops in summer, and then he spent time as a gelato consultant in Canada and Spain before settling in L.A. three years ago.

Believing that too much fat masks the clear, direct flavors he’s aiming for, Moro keeps the butterfat in his gelati at 7%, about half as much as in luxury ice creams. He makes 3- to 5-gallon batches, adjusting the taste in response to the inconsistencies of the fresh seasonal ingredients.

After the day’s supply is ready, Moro may spend hours tinkering with new gelato and sorbetto flavors. To perfect his ginger gelato, for instance, he tried half a dozen ginger preparations. Only crushed fresh ginger satisfied him. The clear, zingy flavor of his finished product is unlike that of any other ginger ice cream.

Even with routine flavors, Moro is a perfectionist. Three types of vanilla, including freshly scraped beans and Bourbon vanilla extract, go into his vanilla gelato. The chocolate is a blend of semisweet chocolate with three varieties of cocoa. And the pear sorbetto, to which he adds a touch of minced pear skin, has a more intense pear flavor than tree-ripened fruit.

At the rear is a small open kitchen where a cook turns out breakfast (served until 4 p.m. to suit the local clientele) along with salads and panini made with freshly baked focaccia or ciabatta from Massimo’s bakery.

Tastefully distressed white woodwork, a cracked cement floor and sleek arched display cases effect that Euro-chic blend of antiquated and au courant. You can sit by the sunny front window or at the sidewalk tables, but regulars know to go out back, where seats beneath a vine-covered arbor face the lush greenery of the Sculpture Garden Nursery.

Light meals — preambles to dessert — are in order at Massimo’s Gelato. The food is freshly made and often exquisitely simple: perfectly poached eggs strewn with Parmesan and cracked pepper, a croissant with a bracing dark-roast cappuccino, a pressed sandwich of Black Forest ham and Brie. The omelets are carefully handled. A grilled vegetable salad or bambini panini may be fitting small- plate choices.

Marked on a board behind the gelato case are the daily cafe specials: soup of the day, additional panini and an entree salad. One special, smoked salmon strips tossed with organic greens in a light cream and lemon dressing, came generously overlaid with broad salmon slices — the perfect lunch to precede a gelato orgy.

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