Restaurant week in New York City is an interesting time for dining out. I label this time interesting because for many, it affords the opportunity to try a restaurant that is otherwise too costly or difficult to get into, but the experience is often soured by large crowds, a limited menu, and in some cases, a very frustrated restaurant staff. Even in some of my “successful” outings of the past, I have often found myself wondering: “What’s that place like when its not restaurant week?”
For that reason, for this summer’s NYC restaurant week, I chose one place to attend. A roman-trattoria inspired, Danny Meyer owned, fine dining Italian restaurant nestled into the western corner of Gramercy Park (inside the Gramercy Park Hotel). Ironically, the day before our 8:30 pm reservation, I realized that Maialino was only participating in restaurant week for lunch. Enthusiastically, the next night, we went to dinner for the real deal…prices and all!!
Before you even walk in, the charm of this place is undeniable. If you are on foot, any way you approach the restaurant, you are sucked in by the beauty of the 19th century buildings that make up the park’s neighborhood. Beyond the heavy glass and steel door and down a half a set of stairs is a contemporary, yet homey, establishment.
Despite the great vibe, our service was surprisingly mediocre for a Danny Meyer spot- it took about 15 minutes after our reserved time to be seated, and from there the wait staff seemed more focused on the tables that did not have two twenty-somethings sitting at it. A mix-up with our drinks from bar to table was also a bit bothersome.
The food rundown goes a little something like this:
1. Some pretty incredible rosemary infused foaccacia and those delicious crunchy long italian breadsticks- on the house with a good olive oil.
2. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with OO and Anchovies- Some high quality dairy and a nice prelude to the pasta.
3. Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana- The pastas were outta this world. Fresh tasting, perfect al dente texture, and aptly sauced. Both dishes introduced my first experience with guanciale, (AKA Roman Bacon). It is definitely intimidating when you read about it, but delicious in a well prepared dish of pasta
4. Suckling Pig for two with Fingerling Potatoes- the namesake dish for this restaurant (Maialino in Italian translates to piglet.) This was a special for the night, but was surprisingly pedestrian. A rather bland “crispy skin” topped a rather small pile of pork that was moist, but lacked seasoning. I was dying for some sort of flavor to pop out as we tore through this final dish, but I got nothing. The fingerlings were great, the “maialino” just did nothing for me.
After another glass of wine and some more breadsticks, the bill arrived. I thought to myself, “Wow! This is definitely not a restaurant week sponsored meal!”. Although we had a few drinks and an appetizer, I can definitely say I have spent this amount of money elsewhere and had a much better meal and experience.
Overall: This restaurant has an incredibly authentic italian vibe and is a great intimate setting for a special occasion. With only one experience, I can pretty confidently say that you will get a nice meal, but you will definitely pay for it. I am sure the service issue is not prevalent, as DM places just don’t operate that way, but you may find the waitstaff giving disproportionate attention to the high-roller types. I hear brunch is the best meal at this joint, so I plan to go back again!