Dining at MARIO'S up in Baguio has been in our family's We'd always sit by the windows on the 2nd floor,
To-Do list whenever we'd vacation up in the mountains
ever since I was a little boy,
when it was still somewhat politically correct
for my dad to dress up, or more accurately, dress down
his firstborn son in a G-string:
embraced by the pinewood walls and warm lighting,
luxuriating in the cool, diesel-free breezes of the Baguio of yore,
us kids bundled up in our brightly-colored sweaters and jackets,
breathing in the cold air and gleefully exhaling "white smoke",
pretending that we were smoking cigarettes, just like
our elders who inevitably pulled out their Winstons & Dunhills
after enjoying Mario's trademark steaks and succulent salads.
We loved Mario's so much that one evening,
we decided to take home a souvenir with us.
Remember when the only wines available in the Philippines
were Mateus Rose and Paul Masson?
Here's that Mario's souvenir from more than 25 years ago,
a "Very Cold Duck" Pepper Grinder that I still use today:
And it's a good thing I "borrowed" it then,
because that peppermill is one of the last remnants
of the original Mario's on Session Road,(KFC now occupies that prime lot)
which burned down a decade ago.
But weep not for Mario's.
37 years on, the restaurant is going strong in its new location
along Upper Session Road near Nevada Square,
and its counterpart on Tomas Morato in the lowlands of QC,
is likewise experiencing a resurgence.
There's so much shared history between
my Hizon relatives and our favorite Baguio restaurant,
that it was almost like a family reunion when I first met
Fil, son of founders Mario & Nenuca Benitez,
when he hosted a dinner to introduce his new concept:"Cordillera Hip Dining"
Mario's with very cozy, less formal interiors, and
surprisingly affordable prices for all the old "Casa" faves:
the Oysters Rockefeller, Lengua, Callos, and Paella.
There's a new bar stocked with Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire,
and since this Mario's is in MMLA's "Sin City" after all,
smoking is allowed, but only in the Zen-themed bar.
When I saw the intimate new interior decor,
so far removed from the stuffy Batasang Pambansa ambience
of the old Mario's, I knew I was in for a grand evening,
and what made it even better was that Fil also invited
quite a number of friends, from left to right:
the "Smarter-than-Sarah Palin" Toni of Wifely Steps
Brian Gorrell's favorite backpacker, Ivan About Town
the original Baguio Boy, Fil Benitez
the once-upon-a-time Baguio Boy now Manila Boy
and the girl with the happiest bangs in the world,
Stephie of Allergic To Beef.com
Salad Comes First,
literally and figuratively,
whenever I dine in Mario's.
For all intents and purposes,
Mario's is the resaturant that introduced
Caesar Salad to Filipinos,
and to this day, I've yet to taste a better version,
specially when Mario's expert servers combine
the seemingly simple ingredients in those wooden bowls,
and somehow come up with the unmistakable, unforgettable
flavor of the dressing, made more decadent with bacon bits
and freshly grated parmessan, a salad truly fit for Caesars. Meet the Meat.
My main course?
Steak, of course.
And in honor of that pilfered pepper grinder,
I had Mario's Peppered Steak, medium rare;
the proper way, the only way, the best way.
With garlicky Gambas on the side,
I made my own version of Surf & Turf:
If you're more of a Pork and Paella person,
try their Sunday Lunch Buffet...
or if you're really an inveterate beefeater,
Thursday dinners are U.S. Angus Prime Rib nights!Dessert Heat:
Flambéed Mango Jubilee,
definitely worth risking burned-off eyebrows for,
and Mario's classic concoction,
Toffee Sans Rival!!!Thanks again to Baguio Boy Fil Benitez
for re-introducing Mario's goodies
to a whole new generation of foodies,
in the very same spot where their parents
probably went to on their first romantic dates!
You can call Mario's Tomas Morato for reservations
and to ask about their latest specials at 372-0360,
or if you're too far from Quezon City or Baguio,
do check out more mouth-watering pictures over atThe Bachelor Girl
, and Fritzified
And if you see this Baguio Boy pretending to play the piano,
do give him a large tip to make him stop disturbing the diners.