Friday, October 22, 2010
This is the third Danny Meyer restaurant I've eaten in this year. The first two being Blue Smoke (fabulous BBQ) and The Modern (within the elegant confines of the Museum of Modern Art). Both were wonderful. I have not yet dined at the flagship, Gramercy Tavern, or Eleven Madison Park; I expect those will also live up to the Danny Meyer standard of fine food and top-notch service. But in my humble opinion, Maialino is outstanding. Maybe it was the warm, gracious, never intrusive service, combined with exquisitely prepared dishes. Or maybe it was the fact that I was celebrating my birthday on a once-in-a-lifetime date (10/10/10) surrounded by fabulous friends. Maybe it was the perfect, early autumn night in New York City. Who knows?
For those of you unfamiliar with the Danny Meyer restaurant empire, Maialino (translation: "little pig") is Danny Meyer's homage to the rustic Italian trattorias he experienced as a youngster in Italy. We purposely arrived a bit early to the restaurant, which is tucked into a corner of the Gramercy Park Hotel (an Ian Schrager property), to enjoy a cocktail at the bar before dinner. Passing by the bread station on the way to our table, I was mesmerized by the beautiful, hearty loaves ready on standby for delivery to tables. A basket brimming with three different breads was sent almost immediately upon seating. It was hard not to taste all of them but I had to save myself for the approaching meal.
I, of course, had studied the menu on-line in advance (many times) in preparation for the event and had my meal all planned. But I was thrilled when our server announced a special appetizer of fresh porcini mushrooms. It is almost impossible to get fresh porcini outside of Italy, but October is the season for porcini and Maialino had them. Sliced roughly, sauteed lightly, seasoned with just coarse sea salt and lemon, we were transported back for a short while to beautiful Firenze. Those are the beauties in the picture at the top of the post. A delicious Villa Simone Frascati was the perfect accompaniment for the mushrooms.
And just like in Italy, the next course had to be pasta. Maialino makes all their pasta in-house, and it shows. We chose three to share and there was not a strand left when all the plates had been passed. We sampled the perfect al dente Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe (Pecorino and Black Pepper), the silken Pumpkin Ravioli, and the Bombolotti alla Norcia (Sausage & Chard “Al Modo Mio”). All were incredible.
But the highlight of the meal was yet to come. The restaurant's namesake dish was a must. They present the prize to you before finishing it off and then it arrives in all its glory - roast suckling pig served over seasoned potatoes and onions. Juicy, fragrant, with velvet shards of meat, covered with the crispiest pork skin you've ever had. And all of it sitting in juices so luscious we were fighting each other to soak hunks of that glorious bread so not one drop would be lost! Bottles of Fattorio di Sotto Rosso de Montalcino from the hills of Tuscany, earthy and not overly fruity, went down so easily with the pork.
Needless to say, on a night of lovely excess, we went overboard on Maialino's fantastic desserts: Vin Santo and Biscotti, Olive Oil Cake and Vanilla Bean Mascarpone, and Crostato di Cioccolato (chocolate and almond tart), with espresso and cappuccino all around.
I am not prone to gushing, and I have eaten in some great restaurants (including a Michelin starred venue in Vienna), and this has to be one of my top five all time best dining experiences. So was it the food or the service or the company? Was it the magic of New York? Was it the auspicious date? Who knows? No need to dwell on unanswerable questions. Whatever it was, it will be very hard to replicate.
2 Lexington Avenue
New York City