THERE is bound to be a story behind a restaurant named Absolutely Mario. At the drop of a menu, Mario Garcia, the owner of this Farmingdale spot, will relate it.
Mr. Garcia worked as a waiter and maître d’hôtel at Tesoro in Westbury for 18 years and gained a reputation for never saying no to diners’ requests. Instead, his reply was “absolutely.” He even had a small sign (which he still has) that read “absolutely.” Patrons began calling him “absolutely Mario,” and he vowed that if he ever had his own restaurant, that would be its name.
That dream came true a few months ago with the opening of the Farmingdale restaurant, which fills the building that was last Jaegerhaus. The warm, woody décor that was once labeled Old World German could now be called Old World Italian. There is lots of brick, stained glass, painted porcelain chandeliers, a brick fireplace and hanging lanterns in cozy wood-enclosed booths. There are white cloths and fresh flowers on the tables. One weekend night a talented musician sang appropriate standards, just right for a quiet dinner. What sets Absolutely Mario apart is not its décor or its menu of Italian favorites but the warmth and spirit of its owner, and the staff followed his lead. The bartender gave us a cheery hello as we entered. Our waiter was jovial and accommodating, as was the smiling busboy.
Mr. Garcia was all over the dining room, pulling out his “absolutely” sign when needed and seeing that diners were happy. Occasionally, he sat down at a table and visited with regulars. What constituted a regular? I think I qualified on our second visit when I was greeted with kisses on both cheeks. As soon as diners are seated, the busboy brings a plate of bruschetta and a basket of warm breads ( focaccia, Italian and crisp flatbreads). That basket was replaced with a full one halfway through the meal. At dinner’s end a bottle of sambuca was plunked on the table as an escort to our espressos. After-dinner drinks were also offered. We refused, but a glass of vin santo and a plate of house-made biscotti were brought as a final gesture of hospitality.
The menu held few surprises. Some offerings were standard issue, like the ordinary Caesar salad and the baked clams. But the warm spinach salad was a knockout. It was large and lovely, loaded with mushrooms and onions and pleasantly wilted by its bacon vinaigrette. Another showstopper was the seafood salad, an array of sparklingly fresh shrimp, calamari and scungilli in a lemon-olive oil marinade.
A tasty white minestrone with rice was unusual and unusually good. An appetizer special one night, shrimp wrapped in bacon over barely cooked baby spinach with a drizzle of Pernod-spiked cream sauce, deserved its designation as special.
So, too, did a pasta special of bowties with shrimp, portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. Another delightful pasta was penne oliva in a very light tomato sauce full of capers plus green and black olives. The diner who ordered the dish did not care for penne, so she was told that she absolutely could pick another pasta.
The best entrees were a succulent rack of lamb, medium rare as ordered, in a dark amarone sauce bolstered by mushrooms and prosciutto, and a special of flaky red snapper Livornese in a snappy olive-dotted sauce. Roasted salmon with lemon, capers and white wine and filet mignon smothered in a dark portobello sauce were other good choices.
– BY JOANNE STARKEY
Mario Garcia, owner of the 2-monthold Absolutely Mario, 10 Allen Blvd., Farmingdale, 631 – 691 – 7416, is absolutely charming as a host. His new Italian restaurant, which takes up residence where Jaegerhaus used to be, is a warm and woodsy refuge.
In the early evening, the bar was crowded with convivial local business people. I enjoyed an antree called shrimp jalapeno, which consisted of plump shellfish in a chile-laced red sauce.
Service was unimpeachable, our waiter both efficient and ultra-hospitable. Garcia stopped by to introduce himself.
Later, during a telephone conversation, he explained the restaurant’s name. “People started calling me absolutely Mario when I was a maitre d’hotel and a waiter at Tesoro in Westbury,” he said, adding that he had a reputation for never saying no. “I would bring out a sign that said, ‘ Absolutely.’ and people like it and laughed about it. So I said that if I ever opened a restaurant, it would be called “Absolutely Mario”, and we would never say no, ever if we had to send out for something somebody wanted.”
– BY JOAN REMINICK