One of them was Maialino, recently named best new restaurant by Zagat, and restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest addition to his ever-expanding empire. And, because pasta is my husband’s favorite food group, it seemed a good bet to satisfy that craving. However, I was not able to get a reservation for the night/time we requested, despite having called 28 days in advance as suggested. (This is standard for a Danny Meyer restaurant, both in terms of protocol and difficulty in scoring a reservation.) Rather than move around other reservations, we went for Sunday brunch instead.
A blessing in disguise, perhaps? While reviews of dinner service have been mixed, everything I had read about brunch indicated this was the time to go. Located on the first floor of the Gramercy Park Hotel, light streams in from the expansive windows, smells of rich coffee waff through the air, pastries and breads are piled high on cake plates and many menu items are usually only found in Rome (where Meyer did extensive research before opening Maialino.)
Baked eggs in spicy tomato sauce are the perfect vehicle for the awesome bread that is brought to the table, scrambled eggs with pecorino and black pepper are light and fluffy, and the poached eggs with turnips and greens form a delightful combination.
To my husband’s delight, pasta plays a major role at brunch, not just in the afternoon or evening hours. He chose a Roman specialty, Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, a simple pasta with Pecorino cheese and a healthy dose of black pepper. The other selections include some form of pork, either guanciale or suckling pig ragu (except the ravioli which, like the cacio e pepe, is also heavy on the butter).
Panini, including one on chewy ciabatta with porchetta, arugula and fried eggs, round out the selections. It was substantial to say the least, but the quality of the bread (the likes of which cannot be found in Kansas City), kept me from leaving more than a few crumbs on the plate.
Maialino means “baby pig” in Italian, so pork is king here. The thick pepper bacon is more like chewy pork than what one thinks of as crisp bacon, but it works. Salty, fatty and rich, this side dish should be shared to keep the arteries from instantly clogging.
The overall effect of the dining room is mesmerizing. The layout is ingenious, with nooks and counters interspersed with communal tables, tables for two and round tables for large groups. Wine bottles are displayed at one end, wood beams and tile floors complete the look.
For a change of pace from the typical waffle and pancake brunch, you’ll do no better than Maialino, but make a reservation!