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Maialino: This Little Piggy Gets Best in Show

After my failed first attempt at Maialino and Immaculate Infatuation’s unfortunate review, I approached Danny Meyer’s newest hotspot with trepidation and muted expectations. As it turns out, both were thoroughly uncalled for as this Italian blockbuster truly blew both me and my boyfriend away.

Meyer’s heralded Italian ‘trattoria’ in the Gramercy Park Hotel transforms a rustic concept into a sleek and stylish hotspot yards from Rose Bar, model-central, and the illusive Gramercy Park (where Danny lives himself). The room is admittedly contrived with faux rustic touches like exposed beams, blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, bread baskets, bottles of table wine, and rough wooden tables. Everything is airbrushed and shiny, slick, smooth, and expensive – oh so very Danny. A set of marble-topped counters, one for bread and one for salumi, separate the hoppin’ front bar area with high-top tables, corner nooks, little rounds near the windows, and a hefty bar from the more subdued and elegant dining room. Neatly-organized black-and-white and sepia photographs line the walls; beautiful tufts of flowers rest among twinkling magna-sized wine bottles on shelfs and banquettes. The look is restrained exuberance – if you can imagine that.

The service surpasses expectations in terms of professionalism, warmth, and ability. Our waiter was both congenial and quick, efficient and casual. The food came out at well-timed intervals, and a very knowledgeable manager assisted in selecting the perfect wine for us. At the end of the meal, one of the chefs came out to mingle with the tables and talk about the food (a very nice touch). Any service bumps and bobbles that may have been there at opening are long gone by now.

The dressed-up Roman trattoria cuisine ranges from good to beyond excellent. The menu offers salumi and cheese options to pick at, pastas, hearty entree dishes, tantalizing-in-their-own-right side dishes, small plates starters, and desserts that defy the typical Italian selection. My boyfriend and I sampled the mixed salumi plate, the buffalo mozzarella, the ravioli al uovo, the lamb chops, the olive oil cake, and received a gift of spaghetti with pecorino and ramps from the kitchen.

The low point was the salumi plate, which featured too-hard soppressata, average mortadella, and beautifully cut slices of speck. It was good but by no means up-to-par with the proliferating selection of salumi plates in New York. The high points were the ravioli and the lamb chops. The ravioli was unlike any ravioli dish I have ever had; one large ravioli shell delicately stuffed with spinach, ricotta, and an egg yolk, this astonishing dish oozes a remarkable filling the moment you cut through it. The lamb chops were so good that my boyfriend was rendered speechless for 30 seconds; after taking a moment to savor the luscious tender meat, he proceeded to explode into a long effusive set of compliments to the chef. Sauced perfectly and cooked to a beautiful deep pink, these lamb chops rank easily in the top 2 or 3 I’ve ever had.

The rest of the meal was happily very good with divine buffalo mozzarella balls packed with silky flavor, a savory ode to ramps nestled amongst a haystack of well-cooked spaghetti, and a perfectly moist slice of olive oil cake with a dollop of creamy marscapone. All in all, Maialino or “little pig” delivers consistently very good food with moments of brilliance. It is comfortable and relatable cuisine that any diner from adventurous to picky to cautious will enjoy – and should with the whopping pricetags attached to many dishes.

Maialino offered an all-around memorable dining experience from the marvelous service to the comfortably elegant look to the delicious and satisfying cuisine. From start to finish, it was a meal to relish in. A wonderful option for everything from entertaining guests from out of town to a romantic date to a birthday dinner with friends, Maialino is a sophisticated and flexible crowd-pleaser, just good luck snagging a reservation!

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