The Star in Frisco is one of the most unique of the new developments to hit Collin County in recent years. It’s not quite mixed-use, since it trades in residential space for the Dallas Cowboys World Corporate Headquarters. It’s better to call it a five-pronged miniature world complete with a hotel, high-end restaurants, shopping and, of course, the starpower of Jerry Jones and his ‘Boys.
There, you’ll find Dee Lincoln’s domineering steakhouse, Dee Lincoln Prime, as well as Sushi Marquee, which is either an ‘80s rave with a sushi bar atmosphere or a sushi bar with an ‘80s rave atmosphere. Across Winning Drive, Tupelo Honey is a charming southern dame, while Zaytinya is Chef Jose Andres’ “Mediterranean tapas” palace. Then there’s Da Mario, which the Jones drafted to be their sole purveyor of fine Italian food.
Certain phrases work strange magic on our minds, our palates, and, admittedly, our wallets. Consider the following: imported Italian specialties. Locally-sourced ingredients. Handmade pasta. Black truffles. Strawberry mimosas. Da Mario makes use of them all. On the exterior, you might expect to find a wild Dallas Cowboy wandering around. On the inside, it combines the traditions of old-world Italy with a Rat Pack atmosphere.
Starting at the sweeping green marble bar, which dominates the entrance, Da Mario is laid out in an open floorplan full of light from large windows. A huge column behind the bar contains a cavernous brick oven. To the left, you’ll notice that their exquisite collection of Italian wine has been brought up from the cellar to be shown off in a glass-walled room. A lily graces each table, most of which are luxurious booths. The color scheme nods to the Italian flag but stays subdued with wood and gold accents. But everything, from imported ingredients, to Executive Chef Luigi Iannuario, to the glasses on the table, is unquestionably Italian.
The Da Mario Caprese, which serves two, begins with a revelatory herb-forward pesto that leans on its lightest flavors and reigns in garlic and oil. Heirloom tomatoes and pools of olive oil, ready to drown the bread hot from the oven, fill the plate. But it’s all in service of the mozzarella di bufala that has been brought in from the Campania region of Italy, known for its ancient ruins, dramatic coastline and dreamy countryside. Weightless and cool, this mozzarella, which hails from the same pocket of the world as Mount Vesuvius, floats.
A more complicated option, Carciofini e asparagi crudi, rosso d’uovo e tartufo nero, pairs a calm presentation with a diverse range of ingredients. At once earthy and electric, shaved baby artichokes and asparagus coil around an egg yolk, with paper-thin black truffle, Parmigiano and an especially tangy lemon vinaigrette.
For antipasto, few things feel more stately than roasted bone marrow served with warm sourdough. Midollo al forni promises grease and fat topped with firm crystals of salt, still cradled within a hunk of bone, unhidden under pairings of red onion and parsley. Or, Gnocco fritto e culatello, savory puffs with wine-cured salumi from Emilia Romagna and Parmigiano, can hardly fail you.
Before the influx of entrees and Tuscan wine, peruse the signature cocktails like the Paper Plane, blending bourbon aperol and amaro nonino, and perhaps make a stop at the Campari bar cart. An Italian aperitif with distinctive intensity, Campari is to be celebrated. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a challenge worth taking and an experience worth having.
Da Mario’s pizzas leave little to be desired, particularly the Fiori e asparagi, which decorates orange squash blossoms with burrata, ricotta and the return of crisp, shaved asparagus. The crust is exactly right, salty and blackened in the right places, and burrata and ricotta harmonize with the sweet, delicate squash blossoms. It’s one gorgeous pizza.
The pasta menu is similar in its grace. Twirls of long, house-made noodles—linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti and so on—offer warmth and comfort, sometimes with a surprising level of showmanship.
Garganelli, a three-meat bolognese, is classic in taste and technique. The dried tuna roe shaved on top adds a pleasant hint of different. However, the Fettuccine alla fiamma con tartufo, is worth its salt on the basis of presentation alone. Order it and the staff will cart out a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano big enough to outfit a semi truck. A groove curves around its center. A waiter sets the groove on fire and scrapes at the sides. The cheese glistens and flakes off. Already, the chefs have prepared fettuccine in a heady vodka sauce. They spill it into the wheel and stir. As melting parmigiano clings to piping hot noodles, it becomes a part of the sauce, changing the texture and taste. Finally, the whole tangle gets scooped out and onto the plate, still steaming and melting together. A black truffle is retrieved from a cigar box, and shaved over the top.
Not everything on the menu is so hefty. Meats for the table range from Berkshire pork chops to a whole rack of grilled lamb with salsa Pomodoro fresco or dry-aged black angus porterhouse.
From the sea comes Branzino al cartoccio, a rich yet rustic presentation of Mediterranean sea bass, cooked and served in parchment paper. The skin-on fillet soaks in white wine, cherry tomatoes, olives, thin-sliced celery, herbs and garlic until it flakes into moist, aromatic bites.
Balancing right on the border of being too sweet, the tiramisu is immaculately presented in a martini glass, displaying layers of cake and cream with conical flare.
Chocolate pearls roll in the dusting of cocoa on top. Resist the urge to hoard them for yourself. Alternatively, in Texas, it’s never really too cold for sorbet. Da Mario offers flavors like Meyer lemon, raspberry, and mango, cradled by a piece of waffle cone, and tumbled with berries. A kind palette cleanser, it’s a pleasant end to the parade of noodles and bread.
Da Mario was built out of the school of simple meats, exquisite cheeses, vegetables and long-bubbled sauces. It’s like a ‘50s automobile restored with a new, roaring engine under the hood, and polished to a shine, something old made proud.
Da Mario Restaurant at The Star
Hours: 5 – 10 p.m.
Where: 6655 Winning Dr., Ste. 605, Frisco
More: 972.324.3055 | damariorestaurant.com