Fast forward a little more than ten years after, I'm back at Mario's this time really as a grown married woman with my husband sitting beside me as we attended a special dinner hosted by Fil and Anton Benitez, the owners of Mario's Restaurant. It was during this dinner that we found out that their branch in Baguio was actually their pioneer store and it has been 40 years since they first opened their doors to the public. The Tomas Morato branch where we frequent, opened ten years after the Baguio branch making it 30 years in operation already.
As I browse through the menu, I realized that a lot of my favorites no longer exists such as the Tanigue with Dill Sauce and the Chicken Parmigiana to name a few. I felt a bit sad as no visit to Mario's would ever be the same without them. Still, I know there must be a really good reason for taking them out of the menu and this also means allowing myself to try new dishes and to find a new favorite this time around.
Dinner began with some Oyster Rockfeller (Php. 265) where I initially was hesitant to try. You see, I am allergic to oysters and mussels thus I am extra careful in having them in my meal. Paul, sensing my curiosity to try this dish, allowed me to just have one piece. I carefully plucked the oyster meat out of the shell and scooped up all of the cheese, herbs and garlic and took one sip of water for extra pre-cautionary measures before eating the whole thing. The meat was soft without any scaly textures, I love the perfectly baked cheese and the crunchy bite brought about by what I guess were breadcrumbs. It was good and definitely, that one piece was worth the risk.
We also had Gambas con Chorizo (Php. 345) which was really delicious. The shrimps were so juicy and plump and the addition of chorizo made the whole dish so flavorful. I even tried drizzling some leftover olive oil and garlic into my rice and enjoyed this experiment very much.
Up next was my ultimate Mario's favorite -- the Caesar Salad. Prepared the old fashioned way where they create the salad dressing in a giant wooden bowl and later on tossing the lettuce and anchovies in. It was creamy yet light, it tasted exactly just the way I remembered it to taste like years ago. Some things still remains the same and I'm glad the Caesar Salad continues to please our taste buds all these years.
For our entree, we were ask to choose one out of the four choices: Corned Beef and Cabbage, Bacalao a la Vizcaina, Salpicon de Mar Y Tierra, Glazed Pork. Since Paul and I are trying to abstain from beef for six months, we chose two of the non-beef entrees available -- the Bacalao a la Vizcaina and the Glazed Pork.
I got the Bacalao a la Vizcaina (Php. 625) and was very happy with it. The fish was tender and fresh and despite being cooked in tomato sauce, it doesn't taste sour and went very well with my garlic rice. I will definitely order this again on my next visit.
Paul got the Glazed Pork and was equally happy with his choice. He loves eating pork and has really high standard when it comes to the tenderness and flavor of the meat. I'm happy to report that Mario's pork chop has passed his taste with flying colors. This comes with santol glaze that has added a sweet touch to the robust meaty flavor. He also enjoyed the herb rice which was actually as a surprise as he doesn't like eating parsley very much and the rice was in fact cooked with...parsley! Well, life is definitely full of surprises.
Mario's is also very proud of its paella and we were able to try their Paella Valenciana (Php. 595) that evening. It was really good that I even went back for seconds! The rice was soft and fluffy as it's bursting with so much flavor brought about by the seafood and the rich stock that was cooked with it. I loved the prawns and the slices of chorizo that was added to the paella.
We had quite a feast that I was actually feeling quite full for dessert. I was telling Paul that for the first time, I might even skip dessert but I quickly took that back as I saw the server pushing another wooden cart that looked very familiar to me.
It's that cart where they would make their signature Mango Jubilee (Php. 310) and my sister and I would look forward to watching this being prepared especially when the server will start to do the flambe. Back then, we were not allowed to have Mango Jubilee as my parents feel that it still has alcohol included so we would just entertain ourselves with the flambe show as we enjoy our own gelatin dessert. This time, I was able to try the Mango Jubilee and loved the mix of sweet mangoes, caramelized sugar and creamy vanilla ice cream. Yum! Definitely worth the wait!
Through the years, Mario's continue to play a big role in the lives of its loyal patrons as it is commonly used as the venue for family reunions, intimate dinners, birthday celebrations and like in my sister's case -- her 18th debut party. It's nice to know that they continue to improve on their menu selection while keeping the magic for most of their well-loved dishes. I look forward to sharing Mario's with my future kids and allowing them to build their own memories with this great restaurant.
*photos by Paul Ang
Mario's is located at 191 Tomas Morato Ave. cor. Scout Gandia, Quezon City. Call them at 372-0360 / 415-3887 / 376-6210. They also have a branch at the Upper Session Road in Baguio City.