Italian Cuisine in the Heart of TexasJun 01, 2018 ● By Amy Richmond
The best of Italy has been brought to Texas using imported Italian specialties, world-renown meats, age-old recipes and the artistry of hand-made pasta, breads, desserts and more. You will not want to miss this experience.
Arriving early to beat the crowds, we were greeted with an open door, a genuine smile and a hearty welcome. The gesture reminded me of small-town Italian residents inviting me into their home for dinner. But the small-town impression was fleeting as rich wood paneling, starched white tablecloths, leather chairs, walls of windows and pops of green blended to reveal a light, highly-refined atmosphere.
We were seated next to the far wall of windows, which provided an excellent view of the restaurant. The wood-fired oven was center-stage and lined with front-row seating. Chefs provided entertainment as they tossed pizza dough, wielded life-sized pizza boards and masterfully arranged dough like works of art. If there was a rare lull in the artistic flurry, our eyes drifted to the right to watch tongues of flame lick white stone bricks in an exposed portion of the kitchen. This, too, provided us with front row seating to all the action. Along the back wall of the restaurant, an astounding collection of Italian wines humbly watched over the scene. We had not even had a bite yet, but we knew we were in for a treat.
Our server became our much-needed tour guide, as he effortlessly relayed the delicacies offered at Da Mario. His server-in-training smiled warmly as she shared how the multi-week training for Da Mario was like learning another language. The refinement, without pomp and circumstance, was refreshing. Both servers were easy to talk to and always there before you knew you needed anything. They made the experience effortless and enjoyable.
Waters were poured, drinks were ordered and bread was presented in a branded wood box with pesto dipping sauce and individual plates of oil and vinegar. We mulled over the menu and tried our best to choose. As our drinks arrived, we asked more questions, and our waiter’s knowledge of the food was impressive.
In the end, we chose Gnocco Fritto E Culatello as our appetizer. Culatello is the most-prized salumi in Italy, carefully tended to, by hand, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. It is aged more than 12 months, but Da Mario adds more. This culatello is accompanied by hand-made savory bread puffs, accented with morsels of parmigiana and drizzled with vincotto. Vincotto, which is dark and sweet, is made by slowly cooking non-fermented grapes until the sugars have caramelized. We were assured that we would not find this delectable dish anywhere else in the metroplex and we were not disappointed! The savory puffs, combined with the tender culatello, the tang of the parmigiana and the sweetness of the vincotto was superb.
Together with our drinks, this had been an amazing start. My husband had chosen the Pinot Nero, J. Hofstatter “Meczan,” a pinot punctuated with hints of cherries, and I selected the Sgroppino, a delightful concoction of Meyer lemon sorbetti, vodka and prosecco. Memories of Italian summers ensued.
Upon recommendation, and before our entrees arrived, our hand-made Fettuccine Alla Fiamma Con Tartufo provided dinner and a fantastic show. Prepared table-side, in a six-pound parmesan wheel imported from Parma, Italy, this fettucine was a do-not-miss experience. Made with 150 gallons of milk, the imported parmesan wheel was ignited with whole-grain alcohol, and as the cheese melted, hand-made fettucine and tartufo (black truffle) were added and continuously stirred. The result was indescribably delicious and put all other fettucine to shame.
Just when we thought we had experienced the highlight of our dinner, our entrees arrived. Both had been slowly turned over smoking cherry, mesquite and oak chips in Da Mario’s custom grill, resulting in a flavorful tenderness that hardly required a knife.
My husband’s Branzino Al Cartoccio was mouth-watering deboned Mediterranean Sea Bass filled with fresh rosemary, soaked in white wine and wrapped in parchment paper along with tomatoes, olives, garlic celery and more herbs. He seemed to slip into a silent nirvana while consuming it, and upon returning, declared it to be quite addictive.
My Pollo Al Mattone was surprisingly indulgent, as well. Marinated in grain mustard, this roasted organic half chicken was full of flavor and beautifully presented with a grilled lemon and salsa verde. With the addition of Patate Arrosto, rosemary-garlic potatoes sprinkled with parmigiano, all other surrounding entertainment had been forgotten for the moment.
We hardly had room for dessert, but when it was revealed that the Tiramesu was a 100-year-old recipe brought over from Italy by Da Mario’s executive chef, my husband was sold. So, naturally, I caved and ordered the Torta Caprese E Frutto Della Passione too, because … well, chocolate!
As I reveled in my flourless Italian almond chocolate cake and tried hard to decide whether to end my last bite with chocolate or the fresh sweet taste of the passion fruit sorbet, we admired the presentation of the Tiramesu.
Arriving in a martini glass, Da Mario’s Tiramesu was dusted with chocolate, punctuated by a bright pink flower and sprinkled with Valrhona chocolate pearls. It was almost too pretty to eat, but that hardly stopped my husband. Every ounce (except the flower) was devoured, at which point he declared, “I will forever be jaded. No other tiramesu will ever compare.” Knowing my husband and his eternal love of tiramesu, this should serve as the highest compliment. (And, I have mentally prepared myself for hearing about it for the remainder of our years to come). In all seriousness, and in complete transparency, for someone who does not like coffee and therefore has never liked tiramesu, this dessert was outstanding and made me turn my head in surprise. It was that good!
All in all, the entire experience was full of delectable surprises. The staff exuded the humble Italian hospitality I have always loved, and we felt welcomed and cared for at every turn.
In addition, both Corporate Executive Chef Mert Seran and Da Mario Executive Chef Luigi Iannuario were regularly and effortlessly circulating between the kitchen and the dining room, taking the time to speak to guests. Their movements were relaxed and fluid, with an undercurrent of collective joy in watching everyone relish the experience.
If you decide to experience Da Mario for yourself, make a reservation while you can! The restaurant is located at 6655 Winning Drive, Suite 605. Da Mario’s Italian experience has become a very popular trip! Check out the menu at damariorestaurant.com.
Frisco STYLE Magazine dining reviews are not scheduled with or paid for by the featured restaurant. All reviews are completed for the purpose of helping readers know and enjoy local dining options.