A meal at Da Mario is like a home-cooked meal that warms your stomach and heart through and through.
The cuisine is Italian, and unlike many restaurants in town that claim to be authentic, it was my lunch at Da Mario that made me feel nostalgic for a trip to Rome I took last spring whose memories of risotto and gelato still linger in my mind.
Here, the food is simple, traditional and straight to the point. No awkward fusion of non-complimentary tastes or exaggerated efforts to change the cuisine. Da Mario specializes in offering a limited menu with traditional offers: food that any self-respecting Italian mamma would have perfected in her own kitchen.
It is that very concept of offering familiar, comforting food that appealed to executive chefs Amgad El-Nemr, who is Egyptian, and Eric Branger, who hails from France.
“Classical [recipes] are coming back, especially with the recession. [They] make people feel at home, said Chef Branger.
Da Mario is housed in The Nile Hotel, which on Jan. 1, 2009 was acquired by the Ritz-Carlton group. The former Nile Hilton hotel is currently unbranded as new management and executive chefs prepare the hotel to join the Ritz-Carlton family.
The service is top notch and the food is wonderfully beyond description.
Housed in a familiar setting, the old Jazz Up nightspot, it’s interesting to dine where one used to go dancing. Stained glass windows filter light softly inside while wood and leather seating lend an quaint feel to the place.
Patrons should bear in mind that Da Mario is in transition – currently a little too dim with an unexpected color scheme for an Italian restaurant – but the quality of the food does not suffer.
I started off with bread rolls and piping hot buttery bread sticks, the latter being so delicious it was hard to refrain from eating the entire basket-full.
It was perfectly coupled with the porcini mushroom soup, which I decided to start off with. The foamy and lightly creamy soup was one of the few I’ve tried where the intense flavor of the mushroom was not overpowered by copious quantities of cream. I would have liked another bowlful but since it seemed everything brought to the table would be delicious, I refrained from ordering seconds.
I was about to order another porcini based dish, a porcini risotto, but our waiter suggested a seafood risotto. I hesitantly agreed, but was pleasantly surprised.
My risotto came with pieces of squid and shrimp and my fear of that strange metallic taste particular to frozen seafood was quelled. The ingredients were fresh and the chefs skillfully cooked the risotto to perfection. Neither al dente nor too soft, the risotto was in that place that no one at home can ever seem to reach.
To sample a little of everything, I shared a seabass fillet with tomato and olive salsa dish, as well as a lemon garlic roasted chicken with rosemary potatoes.
The seabass dish was surprisingly novel in its simplicity. It was cooked and garnished with basic black olives and served on a medley of vegetables (carrots, snap peas and zucchini) also hinting at a quick toss up in olive oil. A light and seemingly healthy dish, it doesn’t compromise taste.
The roasted chicken was a little too bland for my liking, but the potatoes served alongside with it would have been a fine side dish on its own.
Dessert was a case of sinful indulgence. We sampled the tiramisu, dark chocolate cake with hazelnut, and crème brûlée. The final verdict: my favorites were the dark chocolate cake which straddled the fence between being a cake and a not so soft mousse. Its texture and consistency were light enough to carry such an intense chocolate flavor.
The crème brûlée served as the definition of beautiful as its pale yellow color and caramelized crust were picture perfect. Its taste too was that of a classic crème brulee which one often hears of in the context of urban legend but never chances upon.
Da Mario doesn’t offer elegant interiors, nor a wide range of menu options but rather reminds one of the ultimate purpose when dining: we’re searching for the faded memory of the comfort of our mother’s cooking trying to recapture those beautiful moments of holidays abroad.
Da MarioThe Nile Hotelwww.thenilehotels.comOpen daily for lunch and dinnerTel: 2578 0444