The original Marioâ€™s began in Baguio some thirty years ago. It became synonymous with fine dining and the place to go for the countryâ€™s best Caesar salad and good paella and lengua (ox tongue). Today, the only fine dining Marioâ€™s is located on Tomas Morato.
I visited Marioâ€™s Kitchen in late 2001 when it opened its first branch at Greenbelt 1 near the cinemas. It was a move to make Mario’s Restaurant food available to a larger market. The dishes served here are practically the same as that served in the original Mario’s, with some pleasant changes and additions.
Four years later, the four Marioâ€™s Kitchen branches have been whittled down to two. There is a branch at the Metrowalk in Ortigas, where I was at today. Metrowalk itself is quite bland â€“ there is not much to do or see, although I hear the tenants upstairs are doing brisk business selling pirated DVDâ€™s. Some of the bigger names in the restaurant industry are here â€“ Dencioâ€™s, Coffee Beanery, the ever-ubiquitous Starbucks, and Marioâ€™s Kitchen.
Walking into the non-descript place, the first thing that greets me is the lighted up chiller displaying the desserts. I just love blatant displays of dessert. Anyway, Bin and Boo started off with sopa de mariscos (tomato-based Spanish seafood soup) this version had noodles, while we all nibbled at the famous Caesar salad, which was still good and distinctly Marioâ€™s.
Our main meal consisted of gambas (a Spanish appetizer of shrimps cooked in olive oil, garlic, and chili); garlic rice; a T-bone steak (medium, please) with mashed potatoes; and for Boo, an order of arroz a la cubana (rice topped with a fried egg and eaten with ground beef and bananas). As youâ€™ve noticed, Marioâ€™s serves plenty of Spanish dishes, and they do them quite well. Good food with sizable portions that donâ€™t leave you feeling bitin (lacking). I admit to sneaking a few spoonfuls of Booâ€™s arroz a la cubana. Iâ€™d forgotten how comforting this dish is for me, and how good saba bananas (plaintains) and ketchup are together. Marioâ€™s Kitchen is also the only place I know that serves its rice in a pyramid-like mold. Check out the photo above.
Marioâ€™s Kitchen serves plenty of tapas, Spanish side dishes, so that you can have a happy tasting meal. The soups are good here, try the French Onion or the Clam Chowder served in a bread bowl. Of course you canâ€™t go wrong with their paellas or their callos (Spanish tomato-based tripe stew with garbanzos and green peppers), and their wealth of Filipino favorites. I used to have a favorite pasta dish here which I donâ€™t see anymore on the menu. It was called maccarones con chorizo, a truly tasty dish of noodles doused in a spicy tomato-olive oil sauce with lots of chorizo sausages. Truly lip-smacking good. It you come to Marioâ€™s Kitchen, ask for this pasta dish and donâ€™t hesitate to order it if they say they still make it.
Dessert at Marioâ€™s usually comes down to cheesecakes and their peach flambÃ©, if Iâ€™m not mistaken. Me, Bin, and Boo shared the toffee sansrival and the butter sylvannas, which are both meringue based desserts loaded with buttercream. I never say no to a banana cream pie, this one had a coconut crust and its filling was very light and creamy. Very good and very different from mine. Their other sweet offerings include tiramisu and leche flan (Spanish egg custard).
G/F Metrowalk Mall
Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center
**The other branch is at Robinson’s Place, Ermita.