written by Jason Greenberg
How do we define a good restaurant? Is it simply about the food or is it something else entirely? Is a great restaurant one that you can’t wait to come back to? Or one where you want to try everything on the menu? Or is about the overall experience?Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire is expanding to Kuwait, Miami, and possibly Boston (Shake Shack). There have been rumors reported that he has interest in the “Plaza Food Court” in Police Plaza down on Centre Street. And he is taking over the food service program at the Whitney Museum. In November, however, he did what he does best opening a proper restaurant, Maialino, in the Gramercy Park Hotel. And whatever your definition of a good restaurant is, Maialino fulfills it.
With New York institutions like Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café and Eleven Madison Park already in his stable of incredibly popular and successful restaurants, Maialino (which translates to little pig) marks Mr. Meyer’s first foray into Italian cuisine. A rustic Roman-inspired trattoria, it has all the earmarks of a Danny Meyer restaurant: casual atmosphere, friendly, knowledgeable and attentive staff, and of course excellent food.
Formerly of Babbo and Gramercy Tavern, executive chef Nick Anderer’s pork-heavy menu features Italian cheeses and charcuterie from New York, California and Italy; “Antipasti” like fried artichokes with anchovy sauce and tripe with pecorino and mint. The high points come in the “Primi” section. The Raviolo al Uovo (egg yolk ravioli) was rich, creamy and exceptional; the Paccheri alla Gricia with guanciale and black pepper was salty and delicious as was the Bavette in Guazzetto with cod, basil and tomato. Guanciale can also be found in the Bucatini all’Amatriciana. The Malfatti al Maialino, malfatti pasta with almost fist sized chunks of sweet, succulent suckling pig and arugula is a must order. There was little room left for “secondi” (entrees) but the swordfish with fennel fronds and mushrooms was moist and tender. The namesake dish Maialino Al Forno, suckling pig served over roasted potatoes which serves 2-3 people is reserved for those with a major appetite.
Maialino is a serious restaurant but it isn’t out of place to see someone with a book and a glass of wine at the short wooden bar. Others choose to stand around one of the long tables in the small entrance area and order off the bar menu. And with the praise that Maialino has been receiving from both critics and the public, that is very well where you’ll be. And why not? The bar area offers the same menu, service and experience without the wait. Several tables line the perimeter of the bar room, seated on a first come, first served basis.
On a recent visit I was lucky enough to sit next to a couple of serious food lovers who had recently returned from a trip to Italy. They told a story of how they traveled an hour and a half away from the house they were staying in to a restaurant that was one of the best meals of their lives. When they arrived back home, they said to themselves, “What should we do tomorrow?” And the decision was obvious: They decided to drive back to that little restaurant and try more of the menu.
Maialino, despite being in the middle of Manhattan, is just that. You will want to come back to try what you didn’t have and savor once again what you already have. Read more!