Maialino! Maialino! Let me in! Come to the Gramercy Park Hotel and Danny Meyer and his wonderous team will not only let you in, they will treat you like family, make sure you are well fed, and have you leaving satisfied and thrilled to have been part of the experience. Just in case you think Fork bent a tine, Maialino translates to little pig from Italian.
Maialino, the newest jewel in the crown of restaurant king Danny Meyer, is located in the revamped Gramercy Park Hotel. And, true to the Meyer formula, this restaurant is different from every other Meyer restaurant, but with the same painstaking attention to every detail in every inch of the restaurant, a fantastic menu, and a staff that is knowledgeable and truly happy to be there helping you through your culinary adventure.
Spoon called Fork on the fly to see if perhaps Fork was free for dinner. Really? Is that a question that needs to be asked? Meet me at 5.30. We’re going to the bar room at Maialino. Well, alrighty then, Fork will be there – with bells on.
Maialino is the hot, hot, HOT place to be, so snagging a table in the bar room is easier than a reservation in the dining room. The portions are smaller (and less expensive), but the food is still fabulous, as is the service. But, beware, the bar room fills up quickly, so the earlier you get there the better. The restaurant is booked until mid-February, you could chance a walk-in around 5:30 or just be happy with the bar room, and happy you will be!
While Fork and Spoon were trying to decide what to start with, Spoon spied slim breadsticks on the bar and scattered around the high bar tables. Spoon asked a passing waiter about them, and the waiter brought some right over. What arrived was a slim glass lined with butcher’s paper and filled with slim, crisp, cheese sticks. They were small but packed a full wallop of flavor. Bread was also brought to the table, along with olive rolls, and semolina rolls. The cheese sticks are made on the premises.
All the breads and pizzas come from Sullivan Street Bakery. Fork remembers seeing an interview with Danny Meyer once and one of the most endearing things he said was along the lines of not knowing how to do everything well, so why do it half way when he can surround himself with people who know how to do it better. Such would be the case with breads coming from Jim Lahey.
Iced tea is fresh, bottomless, and filled without having to ask, as is the water. Nothing makes a guest feel more welcome than everything being refilled and refreshed before you realize you need or want it.
Our lovely waitress Genesa was very knowledgable about the menu. Not just about what went into each dish, but how it tasted, how it played with other things we ordered. What a treat to have someone so in tune with the menu taking care of you.
We started with Panelle alla Gricia. Panelle is a polenta fritter. This polenta was narrow and then rolled like a pinwheel. Rolled inside the panelle was guanciale (an uncured italian bacon, like pancetta, made from pig jowls or cheeks), and pecorino cheese. On the top of each was chopped fresh rosemary, a big hit of black pepper, and sea salt. Fork’s first bite brought Fork back to childhood and a sausage bread that AG made all the time. It’s a wonderful experience when something you eat brings you to a happy time in your life and a piece of cutlery that you love.
Next arrived Suppli al Telefono. Lovely croquettes made with a tomato risotto and mozzarella. Crisp shell, creamy risotto, wonderful mozzarella, diced tomatoes. What a wonderful flavor combination. Suppli al Telefono is a roman rice ball dish that when hot and pulled apart the mozzarella is stringy. Someone, sometime, thought they looked like telephone lines and the name stuck – I kid you not. And, like the Panelle, one bite of the croquette brought Fork back to being just a Forklet and a wonderful dish from young days in the cutlery drawer. I know this is repetive, but isn’t wonderful when a simple taste can bring you back to another wonderful and perfect time in your life? The croquettes are served with a light tomato sauce for dipping. But, frankly, with the tomatoes inside the croquette, the dipping sauce is redundant.
Next arrived Zampina di Maialino. Fork was not too sure about this dish. Suckling pig’s foot! Sigh. Yes, Spoon, of course, Spoon, I trust you … BUT SUCKLING PIG’S FOOT! Fork is usually game for anything, and if Spoon wants to try it how bad could it really be? But Fork still sat waiting for the dish to arrive and walk itself onto the table. What arrived was nothing that was expected, a beautiful ring of tender, luscious pork, sitting in a pool of tender, tiny lentils with slices of celery and celery leaves. Very rich, very tasty, very unfoot-like!
While Spoon and Fork were sitting quietly, contentedly munching on our wonderful selections, sipping our bottomless iced tea, we were suddenly hit with food envy! We were watching dishes being placed on the table next to us, grabbing our menu, what is that, we need that, where is Genesa?
One of the things ordered was Carciofini Fritti. Fried artichoke hearts. Little tiny nibble of tender, crispy artichokes. There is a super light coating on the artichokes before frying with some herbs. Totally yum! We were so happy the cutlery next to us ordered this dish. The carciofini was served with and anchovy bread sauce. I don’t think Spoon or Fork tried this. The carciofini was certainly a stand alone and we didn’t need the sauce – and Spoon does not like anchovies.
In between the bar room and the trattoria are a bread station on the left and a salumeria on the right. You just want to stand and stare at the goodies on both sides. The breads and pizzas are beautiful. As mentioned earlier, they come form the Sullivan Street Bakery, and as you walk past you experience a treat for the senses, they look beautiful, they smell fantastic, and you already know how good they are. Not even the cutlery who live in fear of carbs could possibly resist these goodies.
And after looking at the prosciutto and speck and salame and fabulous cheeses, Fork and Spoon had to try a sampling (by the way, this is the advantage to eating small plates). We ordered the Assaggio di Prosciutti – a trio of prosciutti, each different and completely fabulous. There is Prosciutto di Parma, this is what most people experience when they have prosciutto; salty, tender, slightly leathery texture; Prosciutto di San Daniele, buttery in texture, salty; Prosciutto, La Quercia, the most wonderful domestic prosciutto, slightly more marbled than the other prosciutti.
Now, how can Fork and Spoon possibly have an assortment of prosciutti without cheese, a 3 selezioni, but with 13 to choose from, how can you possibly be able to choose – Genesa to the rescue again. Fork and Spoon chose the Gorgonzola Cremificato, Taleggio di Bufala and the Testun Occelli. The Gorgonzola Cremificato has a higher water content of other gorgonzola cheeses. There are less veins and more pockets of the blue. Taleggio di Bufala is a semisoft cheese made from buffalo milk, very mild in flavor. The strongest in flavor was the Teston Occelli, a hard cheese with a very pungent smell and taste. All three fabulous!
While trying to figure out what was ordered next to us, Fork spied Panini di Porchetta on the menu. This was actually the largest of the dishes that we ordered. Succulent, flavorful roast pork on ciabatta. We’ll just eat the inside and leave the bread. The crispy skin, the tender pork – but, wait, the ciabatta soaked in all the juices from the porchetta. Well, we’ll have just a tiny bit of the bread. Maybe just a little bit more. Does Fork need to tell you the bread was gone, as was the porchetta, all that was left was what seemed like an inordinate amount of fat on the plate.
All the desserts call to you! We were very tempted to order more cheese for dessert so we could try a few more, but we really were stuffed.
We’re so full. We’re so full we couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Oh, okay, we’ll take a little peek at the dessert menu. Torta della Nonna – Grandmother’s cake – served with a lemon caramel. Flaky tart shell, filled with sweet pastry cream made with ricotta, topped with toasted pinenuts. The torta sat in a pool of lemon caramel, and truthfully, this is what drew Fork and Spoon to this dish. It was barely placed before us when fingers dipped in for a taste. Rich, deep flavor with a huge hit of bright citrus, almost to the point of being more honey than caramel in flavor. The caramel would be great over gelato too! The pastry cream was so light. It much have been from the ricotta. The tart shell thin and crisp, standing up well to the pastry cream. Nothing worse than a soggy crust! Pinenuts, toasted, scattered on top and dusted in powdered sugar. The thought and taste of the lemon caramel stayed with Fork and Spoon for some time, trying to decide if it was too honey like and not caramel enough. The lemon was a constant goodness!
Can the happiness of a Fork and Spoon be judged by anything better than an empty plate? We think not! Whether you try the bar room or the trattoria, Maialino will not disappoint. You will leave full, happy and thanking Danny Meyer for another wonderful oasis.