Danny Meyer’s newest restaurant, Maialino, is a Roman-style trattoria located in the Gramercy Park Hotel. You enter the restaurant through the hotel lobby, a warm room with double-vaulted ceilings, reclaimed mahogany furniture and tile floors. Once at the hostess stand, it is immediately apparent that Meyer has again expertly staffed his restaurant. Every employee radiates genuine charm. It’s that comforting, Union Square Hospitality Group style where everyone seems to hail from the Mid-West but is entirely adept at whisking you out of Manhattan and straight to Rome.
The kitchen is run by Nick Anderer, a former student of Mario Batali at Babbo and Tom Collichio at Gramercy Tavern. Prior to working in restaurants, Anderer earned a BA in Art History from Columbia University. His love for Italian cooking began while studying abroad during his junior year at Trinity College’s Rome campus.
After the hostess (whose smile seems impossibly friendly), the restaurants next striking feature is the bar. Extremely long and made of walnut, it was designed by David Rockwell (the man behind Bobby Flay’s restaurants, the Nobu restaurants, and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze in London). The rest of the restaurant, though, kind of looks like it was furnished with several trips to Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma. That’s not to say it isn’t homey and fun to eat in, but it does feel contrived.
There are two stations flanking your entrance into the dining room, one for bread and dessert, the other for cheese and cured meats. As soon as you sit down—at a cozy table where a white tablecloth is layered over a blue-checkered one—a bread basket is brought. Skip the county loaf and head straight for the pizza bianca, a thin, pizza-like crust sprinkled with herbs, sea salt, and olive oil. Yum.
Recommended appetizers are the Prosciutto e Melone (delicious, fatty Parma ham and summer melon), Carciofini Fritti (crunchy fried artichokes served with an acidic anchovy bread sauce), and Crostini with ricotta, figs, and honey. The Trippa alla Trasteverina (tripe with pecorino and mint) is interesting, but forgettable.
The pastas at Maialino will blow you away. Definitely try the Raviolo al Uovo (a single large ravioli filled with ricotta, brown butter, and an egg yolk). Cutting into the raviolo mixes the runny yolk and brown butter, creating a thick sauce that is lick-off-the-plate good. The Agnolotti (sweet corn ravioli) will make you smile. They are the perfect summer pasta dish. Finally, the Spaghetti alla Carbonara, while a bit heavy for this time of year, is a well-done classic. The spaghetti is refreshingly al dente and the guanciale (like bacon, but cured pigs jowl instead of belly) has a great peppery kick.
When in Rome, go all out. If you’re dining with a party of four or more, get the Maialino al Forno as an entree. This is the restaurants central dish: whole roasted pork loin, belly, ribs, and shoulder. The skin is crackly, the meat tender, and the rosemary potatoes that lie underneath are surprisingly good. If you are in a lighter mood, the Spigola (sea bass with squash and summer bean salad) is expertly cooked, and the beans are more flavorful than one could ever expect from such a humble accompaniment. Side dishes like summer beans with lemon and garlic (all straight from the Union Square Greenmarket) are delicious, but overpriced (between $9 and $11) for what they are.
End the meal simply with pastry chef Jennifer Shelbo’s homemade gelato. The cinnamon toast flavor is a fun choice, and the dark chocolate is rich, pleasantly bitter, and rounded out with a subtle hint of spice.
Maialino isn’t cheap, but it isn't out-of-reach expensive either. The pasta dishes especially, which run around $16, are worth every penny.
This restaurant brings together everything I look for in a great place to eat out: genuinely friendly service, a fun vibe, a comfortable design, and delicious, simple food.