Mario’s: I had such high hopes. Chef Mario Gentile, formerly of Nove, opened this spot up not more than a couple of months ago, replacing the old Espana Royale on Richmond Road. My mother and I have held a long standing tradition of celebrating Super Bowl Sunday with a girls’ only dinner out, and Mario’s seemed like a great option.
The ambiance was ok, some cool new light fixtures and a new floor plan to change up the space from the previous restaurant. The grass on top of the booth dividers had me a little confused, but that was ok. We were greeted by a very nice, but somewhat overzealous waiter with a heavy Italian accent. As we browsed the menus he interrupted several times to give us his suggestions, almost insisting that we try them. I wasn’t sure, at this point, if I appreciated the suggestions or not.
Based on his rave reviews of the Borghese Toscana Merlot, I went with it and was a little disappointed with its lifelessness. It was ok – you know me, wine is always ok. But it tasted like a cheap table wine. The straw wrapped bottle was nostalgic of my childhood dinners, but not necessarily in a good way. My parents (a stay at home mom and firefighter dad with two kids) could only afford the $5-$8 bottle range, so the straw wrapped chianti was a staple in my home.
Getting to the food… my mom and I were seriously hungry so we went all out, starting with the fried polenta and burrata appetizers.
The fried polenta with pork belly was good, but quite a small portion (more like a little taster than an appetizer), and nothing really special or unusual, as I had expected. And the burrata was average as well – I think it would be really hard to screw up burrata – but it was certainly not the creamiest or freshest tasting one I’ve had. The grilled pepper that was served with each appetizer just didn’t make much sense to me, and neither did the random greens thrown on the dish. It seemed like an attempt to fill up somewhat sad and empty plates.
Next we split the poached pear salad, another insisted recommendation by the waiter.
They did thoughtfully split the portion to two dishes to make for easier sharing, but forgot to keep the Gorgonzola cheese on the side, as per my mom’s request. Luckily for her (and unluckily for me) it was such a tiny amount of cheese that we couldn’t even taste it. It was good, a standard salad. But I could have made it myself. Boring.
We were artfully sold on the pasta dishes, and again opted to share one, the Stracci.
This, despite its brownish and messy appearance, was my favorite dish of the meal. The pasta was fresh and cooked very well. However, the blueberry drizzle, promised in the menu’s description and touted by our waiter, was unrecognizable in the sauce.
For our entrees, I went with the mignon medallions and my mother did the Brandy shrimp.
When asked how I wanted my steak cooked, I had excitedly replied, “Rare, bloody,” (check out my Instagram @bacon_boozer for some photos of how I like my meat cooked), but it was barely pink. The “truffle prosciutto” stuffing was bland and disappointing. Both my mom’s dish and mine came with what looked like nearly identical sauces, the hint of Brandy making only the slightest difference in the shrimp dish. The kale and spinach accompaniments were skimpy, and the potatoes were boring roasted in only the most boring of ways.
For dessert, we each did a cappuccino, and shared the tartufo affogato and chocolate explosion.
Cappuccinos were good. I wouldn’t have gone for the tartufo if the description did not say “doused with hot espresso coffee,” but sadly, the espresso part was nowhere to be found. I had imagined the cold ice cream and hot espresso making a nice pair, but it was a total flop of boringness without it. The chocolate cake was fudgey and delicious, but just so painfully typical.
Overall, I awarded Mario’s two stars. The food was consistently ok, and the restaurant appeared clean. The waiter was very kind and did seem like a nice guy, but was overbearing and gave unsolicited suggestions which turned out to be disappointing. There were several mistakes in the meal (cheese on the salad, doneness of the meat, and missing espresso in dessert), which made for an annoying experience. I’ll chalk it up to the place being so new and (hopefully) still working out the kinks, as Gentile is an experienced and talented chef. But my experience was one of exaggerated and fluffy menu descriptions with plates that fell completely flat.