Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Pigging" Out at Maialino

Maialino, Danny Meyer's latest venture pays homage to the summers spent in Italy during his youth, focusing on Roman-inspired cuisine. Italian for, "little pig," Maialino was the nickname affectionately given to Meyer for is love of food, a precursor for his later career. But maialino, better known to many Americans as suckling pig, is more than just a cute nickname, as it plays a prominent role the restaurant's menu and stars as its signature off-menu item. Truth be told, this post is a a bit tardy as the restaurant has been open for quite some time, but don't blame me for not trying, dinner reservations are still highly coveted, often "relegating" many to a spectacular brunch. But with my family in town and having experienced a rather lackluster dinner at Artisanal the previous night, I was determined to give them a proper meal before sending them off.

Unlike the night before, it was MW and I who were running late. But the gracious hostess seated my family without us, yet another small gesture which leads me to believe the Union Square Hospitality Group is second to none. We arrived shortly and were informed of the evening's specials. After some debate, we settled on several antipasti, a couple of pastas and a few specials, all meant to be shared family-style. We were given a great breadbasket to help hold us over until the rest of our food arrived. The basket included: a chewy Pizza Bianca, an Italian Bread covered in sesame seeds, a Sourdough and dangerously addictive Cheddar Breadsticks served with an excellent olive oil. Orders taken, noshing on bread, the only thing missing was wine as MW ordered a glass of the Pinot Grigio, Sant’Helena, Fantinel (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) 09 and I, a glass of the Pinot Noir, Vigne la Tour, Les CrĂȘtes (Valle D’Aosta) 08.

Our meal started with a selection of cured meats and imported cheeses, which are so popular as to necessitate a separate station, solely dedicated to the slicing and serving of Salumi and Fromaggi. Wafer-thin ribbons of salty Prosciutto di Parma, fat-laden Mortadella, both from Emilia-Romagna, and a spicy Soppressata Piccante from nearby Long Island City arrived on one plate. On the other, was a funky Ricotta Scorza Nera from Abruzzo, a rather mild Taleggio di Bufala from Lombardia and a nutty Parmigiano Reggiano from Emilia-Romagna. Like Sherman's march to the sea, my family happily devoured all, leaving not so much as a crumb of cheese on either plate, and requested some additional bread to boot.

Next, the Insalata Catalana, a salad of Poached Seafood (Baby Seppia, Calamari and Shrimp), Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula covered with lemon juice and olive oil. The preciously tender morsels of seafood played off the sweetness of the candy-like tomatoes, peppery arugula and acidic potatoes, which culminated into one of the best salads I've eaten all year.

The salad was followed by our primi: a trio of pastas. Being a restaurant specializing in Roman food, we felt it necessary to try the ubiquitous Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Maialino's pasta carbonara contained all your usual suspects, crunchy bits of Guanciale, a creamy sauce fortified by an Egg, but it lacked the kick of Black Pepper I've come to know, expect and love from this dish.

The Spaghetti alle Vongole was also good, yet flawed. In spite of some of the best cooked Clams adorning the spaghetti, perfectly cooked al dente, the White Wine sauce was much too salty and wasn't our favorite pasta.

That distinction easily went to the Raviolo al Uovo. Though anything but a bargain, what this giant sized raviolo lacked in value, more than redeemed itself with its incredible flavor. Like magic, the mixture of Ricotta and rich Egg Yolk oozed from the pasta the very instant that it was pierced, resulting in a flood of deliciousness as it combined with a Sage Brown Butter, a virtual no-brainer as far as flavor combinations go.

As somewhat of a prelude of what was to come next, a server proudly displayed the mouthwatering Maialino al Forno to the table before returning to the kitchen where it was plated. Arriving atop a bed of golden Rosemary Potatoes, the maialino, or Roasted Suckling Pig came pre-cut for our convenience. Few words can accurately capture my admiration towards a properly cooked suckling pig with its succulent meat and crispy-crackly skin, words escaping me, leaving me virtually speechless. Like an island castaway who stumbled upon food, I inhaled the juicy meat kissed with the gentle flavor of rosemary and tore into the crunchy skin with reckless abandon.

But our gluttony didn't stop there. In addition to the massive maialino al forno, we also ordered the other special of the night, the Abbacchio al Forno, a Roasted Spring Lamb with even more of those incredible Rosemary Potatoes that had cooked in all the meat juices and fat. But unlike the maialino, the abbacchio lacked the same crisp skin. Still, the abbacchio more than held its own flavor-wise, as the lusciously gamy meat was absolutely superb.

Like a moth to the flame, though thoroughly satiated, my family's penchant for sweets couldn't resist the siren song that was the dessert menu. In the interest of our waistlines we decided to split three desserts. The Tartufo, a Frozen Chocolate Truffle with Brandied Cherries was one of the more sophisticated versions of this Italian sweet. The brandied cherries lent a subtle tartness counterbalancing the sweetness of the chocolate.

The Plum Rosemary Sorbet served with Biscotti in a small cup was surprisingly pleasant. The savory notes from the rosemary paired unexpectedly well with the plum.

Lastly, I couldn't resist ordering the Torta di Olio d' Oliva, an Olive Oil Cake with a Vanilla Bean Marscarpone. Light and moist, the olive oil cake was good, but transcendent with the creamy vanilla marscarpone.

Much of Maialino's success can, and should be attributed to chef Nick Anderer and pastry chef Jennifer Shelbo, both of whom were selected by Meyer, underscoring his uncanny knack for spotting and placing talent. While there were minor flaws with our meal, by in large, they were overshadowed by its triumphs. Maialino's refined approach to roman cuisine and world class service makes it a perfect restaurant for any special occasion, as well as those times when you feel like indulging, perfect for releasing your inner "pig."

2 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(212) 777-2410

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Maialino on Urbanspoon

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