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Take me back to Mario’s

An old favorite attracts a new generation of diners

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES From upper right clockwise: Cochinillo, dessert bar, paella Valenciana, and Mario’s Famous Caesar Salad

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES From upper right clockwise: Cochinillo, dessert bar, paella Valenciana, and Mario’s Famous Caesar Salad

Iremember Mario’s back in the ’80s. Situated at the very heart of Tomas Morato, it was the citadel of all celebrations. My most unforgettable memory, however, was waiting for almost an hour for a table on Valentine’s Day. My boyfriend then (husband now) and I agreed it was worth the wait.

Fast forward to 2016. I return with my family of four in tow. Live music from an electric organ greeted us as we were ushered to our table in the main dining hall. Right next to our seats was the carving station for the roastbeef and the cochinillo (slow roasted crispy pig). The kids immediately scouted the rectangular Sunday buffet. My daughter R made a beeline for the dessert corner. She stared at the two cascading chocolate (dark and white) fountains surrounded by bowls of marshmallows and fruits on sticks and with an impish grin promptly asked, “Mom, can I have dessert first ?” On the other side of the set-up, my son M was already busy filling his plate. Hungry guests, mostly families, started arriving. It was a full house.

Mario’s Sunday buffet

Mario’s Sunday buffet

I loved the paella Valenciana (seafood, rice, chicken, bacon slab, and chorizo cooked in saffron)! Everything else tasted better with it. And the baked salmon (fresh salmon baked with maple bourbon sauce) was heavenly! With crispy skin on the outside and tender, melt-in-your-mouth flesh on the inside, the fish was cooked to perfection. Of course, I had to have a taste of the cochinillo! It was amusing to see the diners ask for their preferred portions of the suckling pig. I, however, just requested for “more skin,” which the server readily obliged. Very, very flavorful, indeed! Please pardon my overuse of exclamation points. A good meal (and its memory) gets me all excited.

Aside from the usual Spanish dishes of Mario’s, the Sunday spread also offers a wide variety of sushi rolls, Pinoy fare (my husband A had two servings of pancit bihon) and fresh greens with a selection of sauces at the salad bar.  They still serve the iconic Mario’s Famous Caesar Salad (fresh romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons, tossed in a secret sauce and topped with parmesan cheese and bacon bits), which is prepared table side. Don’t forget to ask for bread before you start your meal. Mario’s serves freshly baked bread straight from the oven.

“Mario’s restaurant stands for classic, sustainable, and flavorful food. From the very first branch my parents put up along Session Road, Baguio in 1971 to the establishment that it is today, we aim to serve dishes only of the highest quality. Every plate that comes out of our kitchen is subjected to quality control,” said Anton Benitez, operations manager. “My 82-year-old mother Consuelo “Nenuca” Benitez is still very much at the helm of the kitchen. Her recipes remain to be the cornerstones of this place.” How does it compete with so many new concept restaurants? “We have been around for 45 years! People know our food. We have to innovate to keep up with the times but we always serve the classics that our diners have come to love. Our bestsellers from the regular menu are salpicado (tenderloin cubes sautéed in olive oil and served on a bed of garlic rice), callos madrilena (Spanish casserole of ox meat, chorizo, bacon, chickpeas, bellpepper, and rich tomato sauce) and bacalao a la Vizcania (salted codfish served with rice or bread). But who can forget our steaks? Once tried, always liked!”

Mario’s continues to be a neighborhood gem. It’s still a popular choice for celebrations like birthdays, engagements, wedding, and baptismal receptions. It has six function rooms upstairs for small or big parties. Not too shabby for a restaurant that has been around for almost half a century. Judging from the weekend crowd, it looks like it has gained second and third generation customers, too. Now that’s what you call a success story.

Happy 45th anniversary, Mario’s! We’ll be back soon!

 

Mario’s is located at 191 Tomas Morato corner Scout Gandia, QC 02. 372 0360 and 02 415 3887.

 

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