If only all restaurateurs had the magic touch of Danny Meyer. From New York classics like Union Square Café, to bastions of four star dining like Eleven Madison Square Park, everything he touches justifiably turns to gold. His latest restaurant, Maialino, which opened at the beginning of November in the space vacated by Wakiya at the Gramercy Park Hotel, is no exception.
Maialino has a design to match the Roman-trattoria cuisine that it serves. It may seem absurd to hire David Rockwell to design a trattoria—I’m sure that no trattorias in Italy have had so much money and thought put into their design—but Maialino’s layout is one of its many charms. The seating area by the bar has a yellow-tiled floor that is inspired by the pantheon. The main dining room has beautiful oak floors and wood-lined walls. A blue-checkered tablecloths tops each table. Each of these touches give the restaurant warmth and comfort that is inherent to all Danny Meyer restaurants and are an ironic twist for a restaurant that is housed in an Ian Schrager hotel where the Rose Bar next door has a strict door policy and serves $19 cocktails.
The prices at Maialino are wallet-friendly given the quality of food that Chef Nick Anderer, formerly of Gramercy Tavern and Babbo, is serving, with antipasti under $15, pastas under $20, and most entrees under $30. I appreciate that Danny Meyer set prices at these levels when he would have almost surely still filled tables with slightly higher prices.
The menu is full of modernized Italian favorites from spaghetti carbonara to the restaurant’s namesake dish, Maialino al Forno, a roast suckling pig for two. In classic Meyer form, I have heard that the restaurant provides diners with bread to make sandwiches at home out of any uneaten pork. Wanting to fill up on more than just pig, the Significant Eater and I decided not to order the roast pig, but we did get a taste of the pork-centric menu, selecting a starter of a rich pork terrine which was terrific when spread on Maialino’s bread, which is baked in house.
As a pasta, we chose the raviolo al uovo, a very large raviolo filled with creamy egg yolk, ricotta, and potato. When you cut into the pasta, the egg yolk runs across the plate. This was a dish I enjoyed eating in the restaurant and would love to make at home one day.
For our entrees, we ordered the a sea bass set atop greens and preserved lemon and a braised lamb shoulder served with crispy potatoes. The fish, although perfectly cooked, was the least interesting dish of all that we ordered at Maialino, but served as a nice counterpoint to the very heavy dishes we ordered for the rest of the meal. The lamb more than made up for the weak-flavored fish, with the Significant Eater and I fighting each other for the last little morsels of potatoes that had absorbed the wonderful braising liquid.
To complete our meal, we shared Maialino’s tartufo, which was nice take on the classic Italian dessert. Unlike the right-out-of-the-freezer tartufos served at so many Italian restaurants, Maialino’s is freshly made with thick chocolate shavings surrounding creamy chocolate gelato and a brandied cherry. Complements of our charming but slightly nervous waiter, perhaps as compensation for the tiny drop of wine that he spilled on our table (and promptly cleaned), we also were served a slice of olive oil cake. Not that I needed a second dessert, but I happily ate the lemony cake.
Maialino has a very nice wine list, with many choices under $40. The sommelier steered us to a Aglianico, which was robust enough to stand up to the heavy dishes we ate.
Several days after our meal at Maialino, I received a letter in the mail signed by Maialino’s general manager thanking me for my patronage and inviting me to return. It is the little touches that I love about Danny Meyer restaurants, where the staff goes beyond expectations to make diners feel welcome and appreciated. I needed no invitation to return to Maialino, for I surely will.
2 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10010