review: this little piggy…
Though I be wee, I’m fairly certain that my cheeks haven’t seen a booster chair in twenty-some years.
A recent brunch with a friend gave us both the opportunity to revisit our infancy.
The booths at Maialino look normal, and the benches well-cushioned and soft. Indeed, they are. But settle down in them and you’ll find yourself sinking unexpectedly low.
Both Carlton and I came to rest about neck level with the table. Yes, we are both wee.*
Thankfully, the hostess, seeing our diminished state, offered us boosters, a common request, apparently. And here, thankfully, they came in the form of plush, over-stuffed pillows instead of those plastic tubs that seem ascetic and abusive to both butt and pride.
Yes, Danny Meyer is a genius. And he hires geniuses. They figure this stuff out so that you don’t have to when you arrive at one of his restaurants.
Maialino is his latest (I think, I really can’t keep up with him these days), a “Roman trattoria” located in the Gramercy Park Hotel.
One does not go to a restaurant named “the little pig” to eat judiciously.**
The brunch menu at Maialino is a roster of pork and eggs.
Here, there are scrambled eggs with Pecorino and black pepper. There are poached ones too, with favas, snap peas, and Grana Padana. And there’s a daily frittata.
You can order two eggs any style. They come with potatoes and a small salad. You can order them with pennoni, black pepper, and guanciale. And you can order them with a side of ham, Sam I am [no, you really can’t (unless you count bacon as ham), but I couldn’t resist giving Dr. Seuss a shout out].
There’s an egg salad sandwich and a panino with porchetta and eggs.
There’s a fat raviolo stuffed with a potato and ricotta puree, hovering like a mother ship over a lake of browned butter (“Raviolo al Uovo,” $14). Breach the delicate hull and you’ll gain a gorgeous gush of warm egg yolks. The pasta was pretty perfect, just thick enough to hold its contents, just thin enough that it disappears seamlessly into the rest. It’s the kind of dish that calls the day.
There are eggs with tripe (“Uova con Trippa alla Trasteverina“), the whites quivering, the yolks runny. The strips of honeycomb tripe were extremely soft and fairly clean-tasting, slicked with a light tomato sauce. Wherefore the little shards of flatbread – not quite large enough to use as a scoop, not quite small enough to mix in – I have no idea. But I liked them. Italian migas? ($11)
And there are eggs baked in a casuela with a spicy tomato sauce infused with guanciale (“Amatriciana al Forno,” $12). The yolks were more waxy than runny, more soft than firm. They were beautiful. And the guanciale flavor was so indulgently strong that the fatty cut must have been ground directly into the sauce, as Carlton surmised. I especially loved the spongy squares of bread that came soaking in the sauce; a great mop, indeed.
Not an egg person? There are plenty of options, including a pretty fantastic little sandwich that they call a “pizza,” layered with silky ribbons of mortadella and Provolone (“Mortadella,” $5). Whatever you call it, a ham and cheese like this by any other name tastes just as great. The crust was amazing, the kind of thin, knobby board with a soft crumb and flaky surface that shatters to kingdom come when you bite into it. I couldn’t quite figure how this pizza was made – it appeared as if the the filling was layered on a sheet of dough and then topped with another layer of dough and baked (one of the uncut edges seemed like it was sealed).
Not a pork person? Maybe Maialino’s not the best place for you (although there are plenty of non-pork options on the menu).
And purely to mitigate guilt, I ordered a “Misticanza,” a beautiful tuft of baby arugula, barely dressed. Every leaf looked like it was hand-picked ($7).
There seemed like no question (in my mind, anyway) that we were having dessert. If Carlton had an objections, I steam-rolled right over him.
If Marie Antoinette had a Cinnabon at Versailles, Maialino’s “Brioche Caramellato” is what she would have eaten ($3). This buttery little nugget was moist and paved with a thick layer of rich, dark caramel swelling with cinnamon. I’ll let your imagination take you where you need to go.
I had pictured the “Pine Nut Tart” here to look something more akin to Gina DePalma’s (or, what Gine DePalma might teach me to make through her cookbook). Instead, Maialino’s version was really more of a lemon cream tart topped with toasted pine nuts. It was great – light and refreshing.
And gelati and sorbeti, which never escape my attention, they have quite a few. From a list including fiore di latte, chocolate, pistachio, and lemon-basil, we chose tiramisu, grapefruit-campari, and strawberry-lemon verbena. The former was a bit weak on the coffee and liqueur (indeed, it could have been a custardy stracciatella), but appreciated for the crunchy bits of lady fingers that came with it. The latter was my favorite, a fragrant scoop, herb-forward with fruit following. It was really delicious.
Service here was efficient and helpful, hospitable and cheery. It’s the kind of service you might get in the Midwest (incidentally, our server volunteered that he was from Wichita, Kansas).
Maybe that’s why I generally love Meyer’s restaurants. Or maybe it’s just because the food at his restaurants tends to be very good, as it was at Maialino on this day.
I’d like to return for dinner and order the maialino – a plate of suckling pig big enough for three, maybe four people. I’d get some salumi on the side, and perhaps a plate of pasta. And, of course, I’d take a tour of the cheese selection, which looks quite good.
You know the name by now. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel. The executive chef is Nick Anderer, on pastries is Jennifer Shelbo. Based on this one meal, I recommend it.
Gramercy Park Hotel
2 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10010
* I hate making disclaimers like this one, mostly out of respect for my dining companions with whom I eat, but I feel I must to maintain my integrity. Carlton is a well-regarded chef in New York. Whether or not that had anything to do with anything is up to you to decide. I can only tell you that none of the staff even flinched, although our server’s first words to me were, “I hear you’re a blogger from Kansas.” That was a little awkward, if not refreshingly candid; perhaps not the best use of the opentable “Notes” section, but whatever.
** As I understand it, maialino was a nickname that Meyer picked up whilst working in Italy as a young man, partly for his love of suckling pig and partly as a pun on his name.