(New York, NY) Not long ago, Zagat came out with a list of best restaurants in NYC. Among them, Maialino was listed as one of the up-and-coming hot spots. I hopped on OpenTable and was able to snag a lunch reservation about two months in advance. On a sunny Saturday, we abandoned our Central Park wanderings to catch a cab to Gramercy Park...
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When I jump out of the cab, I do so with a bit too much gusto, evidently, because I have a sudden headache. We are early for our reservation, so we stroll around the neighborhood, admiring the architecture and trying to regain equilibrium. (Sadly, my head pounds for most of the day.)
Finally we go in and are promptly seated all the way in the back at a small table which has been awkwardly situated next to a jutting wall so you can’t help but hit it with your elbow while seated. I ask our server if I might be able to simply turn it slightly so it won’t be so inconvenient. She looks at me as if I’d just asked her to serve Ronald Reagan’s brain ala mode with six bottle rockets sticking out of it. I explain again, whacking my arm against the wall to demonstrate. She is quite perplexed now, and must ask someone else if we are allowed to turn the table (seriously) 45 degrees. That person must in turn ask another person. Finally, I am given the go-ahead to turn the table. Despite my aching head and the irritating interplay with the staff, I am determined to have a good time.
We start off by splitting a quartino (almost 2 glasses worth) of 2007 Red Angel on the Moonlight from northern Italy. It is light and playful Pinot Noir, seeming more French than Italian. It goes pretty well with the tangy, crunchy and fresh Insalata di Sedano (celery, fennel, hazelnuts and piave) and the Piatto di Formaggi (three cheeses which include gorgonzola, pecorino, and one other I can’t remember, with delicious sunflower honey).
For my main course, I decide to live it up by ordering the Malfatti al Maialino (sucking pig ragu and arugula). Thick noodles form a bed for pulled chunks of suckling pig dripping in gravy, while peppery arugula adds a nice green touch. Paired with another quartino of the 2007 Cialla Rossa—a much bolder, classic Italian red—the whole meal is lip-smacking good. Juliet reports her carbonara is a bit too stiff for her liking, but my sampling seems about right. The noodles are hefty, for sure.
Despite the initial aggravation with the table, the service warms up and the quality of the food shines through. At the end, we can’t resist a slice of the Torta Nonna (pine nut tart) or the Bomboloni con Creme (doughnuts with whipped cream inside), along with coffee (espresso for me and cream for her). All of it is tasty, but I am already feeling the strain of too much good food. Time to head back to the hotel for a nap and some Excedrin.
We arrive 30 minutes early, so we stroll around the neighborhood peeking through wrought iron gates surrounding Gramercy Park, one of only two private parks in Manhattan. After a light breakfast and a 60 minute walk through Central Park earlier, my stomach begins to rumble as we round the last corner. It's time for lunch!
Mailino is boisterous and busy when we enter. Even though we're still a few minutes early, our table is ready and the hostess is smiling as she escorts us to the back of the restaurant. Our waitress however seems none too thrilled to have us in her section. She is aloof and unfriendly, doesn't check on us after items are delivered and generally seems to wish she were elsewhere. We will not let her sullen mood ruin this beautiful sunny day and we focus on enjoying a leisurely lunch.
We opt to split the platter of three cheeses with sunflower honey and the insalata di sedano, a salad of fennel, celery, hazelnuts and piave cheese. The platter arrives with manchego, taleggio and gorgonzola, each of which goes wonderfully with the warm rosemary foccacia and the sunflower honey. The fennel and celery are very thinly sliced (not quite shaved) and lightly coated in lemony vinagrette. Crushed hazelnuts are mingled throughout and the entire salad is covered in grated piave, much like Parmigiano, but nuttier. Fresh veggies with hazelnuts is brilliant. My one complaint is the piave overpowers the dish. You never hear me complain about cheese, but there's just too much of it on the salad. I scrape half of the cheese off and concentrate on the fennel and celery.
We share a "quartino" of the 2007 Red Angel on the Moonlight, a lush red with our starters. Now before you get excited, please know a quartino is a quarter of a liter, roughly about a glass and a half of wine. (No wonder our server pulled a face and asked "Really? You want to share it?") We later choose the 2007 Cialla Rosso, a dry spicy red to share with our entrées.
I go for the fettucine carbonara with guanciale and egg yolk. The pork is slightly crispy, delightfully salty and clings to the pasta thanks to the sumptuous egg yolk and parmesan sauce. There is a great deal of fresh ground pepper in the sauce, but it's tasty.
We end with the pine nut tart and the doughnuts with cream-filled centers (recommended by friends) and coffees. Both desserts are a lovely end to an impressive lunch.