One thing that irritates me about South Florida is that the same handful of characters seem to own all of the restaurants. Only in places like Boca Raton can people keep opening one place after another even though they're not very good; I don't know who finances them, but they always seem to get built.
The Bova's are one of those groups; their previous dynasty was unraveled by a partnership with Ponzi Schemer Scott Rothstein. I'd been to their Las Olas haunt, Bova Prime a few times and was never very impressed with the food. When they opened Vivo Partenza it didn't really interest me, and it didn't get much buzz so I've never been there. For some reason, this place is getting a lot of interest, so I was interested in seeing what they came up with.jump-->
As with all things Bova, the marketing of this restaurant is just incompetent from head to toe. Their websites are continuously under construction and they don't maintain any serious way of communicating information to their customers. They have a reputation of not being very consumer friendly; they still have shell websites for Bova Prime, and their site for Mario's just has a menu and an artist's photo.
Additionally, their profile on Open Table says that they open at 5pm for dinner only; so of course they're actually open for lunch.
The restaurant is in the old McCormick and Schmick's, which is a good location just off of 95. They have both valet and self parking, which is always a nice feature.
The restaurant's decor is sort of a combination of modern chic and creepy old world; with curtains/canopies outside and an interior which combines lots of curves with abstract patterns.
Mario's Osteria Inside
There's an indoor bar that flows into the dining room, and a large outdoor bar area and multiple outside dining areas. From a physical standpoint, it's a nice looking place; certainly a lot nicer than the dingy McCormick and Schmick's.
I went in and looked around; there was no hostess at the station and there weren't too many tables occupied. Finally she emerged and sat me in a booth; the cushions aren't firm enough and I sunk right into the bench. That would have been fine, except without the height the table seemed a bit too high. No matter, I'd manage.
I looked at the menu and saw that they charge $5 for a small sparkling water and frankly I'm tired of paying $5 for a glass of water. I tried to order a club soda, but the server said that they didn't have a gun, so he could give me a bottle of VOSS. Great, another overpriced water choice. Iced teas are $2.50 including refills so I just ordered one of those. My server disappeared for quite a while, which gave me a long time to go over their extensive menu. They have just about everything you could think of; one downside is that they don't have a lunch menu or any specials. They also (already) have a different menu from their website after being open for 2 weeks; I spotted a filet of sole milanese but it wasn't on the menu here. They have flounder, but I didn't want to spend $29 on lunch. So I decided on the orecchiette with sausage and brocolli rabe; it's always a pretty good indicator of a restaurant's competence level.
Finally he came back with a highball glass with about 6 sips of tea in it, along with a sugar setup. I ordered the pasta and he was off.
While I was waiting, I had time to notice some oddities; they have the dishrag style napkins, which I don't mind as much at a place like Grease, but not so much at a restaurant that charges these kind of prices.
Mario's Osteria Dishrag Napkins
I was also thinking about why such a nice place with such high prices didn't give me any bread or anything to nosh on while I was waiting. Just as this thought entered my head, my server strolled by and said "I forgot to ask if you wanted plain or garlic rolls". "Garlic", I said, "Ok, I'll get them right away for you.", he said.
Ten minutes later, my food arrived; still no rolls.
A runner brought this out; my first look at it was practically disbelief. While it was a substantial portion, it was virtual mush; the rapini was so overcooked it was ridiculous. It was swimming in sort of a green soup; the sausage was crumbled and there were no chunks; I could hardly tell that it was sausage. Adding insult to injury, I wasn't offered a turn of freshly grated romano; only pepper was offered. I'm not sure if she meant red or black, but I wasn't ruining this further.
As I was pondering what I was going to do with this, my server dropped off the rolls. Great.
Mario's Osteria Garlic Rolls
I was pretty hungry and I ate about half of the mush, but this was easily the most incompetently made version of this dish I've had since the first time I tried to make it myself. More than blanching Rapini ruins it; not bathing it in cold water after blanching it can ruin it as well, but this was boiled and completely ruined. Whoever made this dish has no idea how to cook. Throwing a bunch of ingredients together is not cooking.
The Bova's have built another restaurant, but they still haven't hired a chef who can cook the wonderful sounding dishes on their menus. I can't say that I'm surprised.