Where everybody knows your name

Where everybody knows your name

Yaamini Venkataraman

 Da Mario’s in Saratoga gives regulars and newcomers a new Italian family

Somewhere in downtown Saratoga is a restaurant with warm Tuscan-colored walls, mouth-watering scents and Italian music. And in that somewhere—you get the feeling that your family just got bigger.

Da Mario’s is a restaurant that specializes in cucina italiana. The back story is the not uncommon: a connoisseur of his cuisine leaves his homeland to serve food to the greater American public. But at Da Mario’s, the customers aren’t just walking wallets of cash—they are family.

"It’s not just about food. It’s about everything else. [We] keep in touch [with the customers] as much as we can," waiter Armando Carozza said.

Even if it isn’t all about the food, the food itself is something to marvel at. Each dish is conceptualized by chef and owner Mario Ibarra, the restaurant’s namesake. He emphasizes that each dish takes time and patience to create. The menu is diversified by taking different dishes from different Italian regions, such as Tuscany and Calabria. As with all Italian restaurants, the first course is bread with olive oil and vinegar. If you’re in the mood for salad, The Insalata Alla Mario ($9) offers a more peppery flavor than usual salads with an exotic truffle oil.

The Ravioli Di Funghi ($17) wraps homemade ravioli around wild mushrooms and coats in butter, sage, and pine nuts. The melt-in-the-mouth experience from this dish is remarkable, and the flavors are coherent yet distinct. Spaghetti Della Mamma ($16) is a dish with a name that couldn’t be more accurate. Every mouthful makes you recall the bowl of comfort your mom makes for you. And the Gnocchi Di Casa ($16), potato dumpling pasta with a choice of pesto, gorgonzola, or tomato sauce is the best I have ever eaten. The proportion between the pasta and the potato in the dumplings was perfect, and the pesto sauce was flavorful but not overpowering. All of the pasta dishes are perfectly cooked al dente.

Dessert choices include the classic Tiramisu ($8), a dessert with layers of lady fingers soaked in espresso, coated with whipped topping made with mascarpone cheese and drizzled with espresso powder and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Other desserts include Tartufo alla Nocciola ($8), a chocolate-hazelnut gelato with a cream center, and Panna Cotta ($7), vanilla cream flan.

"It’s like being in a kitchen at home, but you’re served," waiter Dino Piazza said. He believes that the staff here is one huge family. While working, they are always laughing and joking around in Italian.

"[Mario] is my brother and [Armando] is my sister," Piazza said.

"No, that’s my girlfriend," Carozza said, pointing at Piazza.

Da Mario’s always tries to make every dining experience as special as possible.

Sophmore Shravya Guda once went to Da Mario’s to celebrate her birthday dinner. When her mom told the staff it was her birthday, the staff dimmed the restaurant lights and sang "Happy Birthday" to her in Italian.

In spite of the warm atmosphere, Da Mario’s isn’t a place for students to hang out. Not only is the restaurant a little formal, the prices, ranging from $7-$26, are too expensive for students to spend on a one-time affair.

Remember the old sitcom "Cheers"? Da Mario’s is the 21st Century version of it—a place where people meet their extended Italian family, where everyone knows everyone else, and a place to enjoy good food in a warm atmosphere. Because once people come here, "they’re hooked for life".

Da Mario’s is located on 14441 Big Basin Way in Saratoga. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday to Fridays, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, and for dinner everyday from 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm. Live music is featured every Wednesday and Friday night. http://www.ristorantedamario.com/