Please note that is NOT a proper review. Among other things, a proper review requires professional standards like repeat visits and tasting through a significant portion of the menu. Instead, I offer some impressions meant to be helpful to readers but not meant to be misconstrued as an official review.
When I learned a few years ago that chef Nick Anderer had worked at Mario Batali’s excellent restaurant Babbo, I was excited to check out Anderer’s own two restaurants: Marta and Maialino. I got to Marta first, several years ago, and was delighted with their accurate recreation of such Roman classics as thin-crusted pizza (the only in the US I know of) and suppli. Last week Dillon and I finally had a chance to experience Maialino, Anderer’s first restaurant, embedded within the Gramercy Park Hotel and with beautiful views of Gramercy Park itself.
It was a good experience, but not a great one. And for the cost, it could hardly be considered a value. From the moment we arrived, we felt a certain indifference from the staff, not the warm and personable hospitality we’ve come to expect from the best restaurants. It was a busy time to be sure, brunch on a Sunday, and the place was packed. The staff seemed a little frazzled, but that’s part of the art of restaurant hospitality: to make guests feel completely at home even when things are getting a little harried.
In any case, we had a few minutes before our table was ready and we started at the bar for a snack and drink. It was brunch time, so we ordered a croissant filled with pistachio. It was solidly good and clearly made with care, even if it wasn’t the shatteringly crisp and and light perfection of the best croissants we’ve had at such places as Tartine in San Francisco or Roscioli in Rome. Our cocktails were excellent, though at $18 each they better have been.
The dining room has an attractive warmth to it, even while large windows offer a beautiful view of Grammercy Park itself. The menu is appropriate in scale, with enough dishes for variety, but few enough that the kitchen can really focus on each one. Knowing that American portion sizes preclude ordering a number of courses in a truly Italian way, we decided to order 3 courses to share.
Our appetizer was burrata with grilled bread. Burrata is mozzarella filled with cream and stracciatella cheese. It was excellent, and so I asked who the producer was. Our server didn’t know; somewhere in upstate New York, she said. Not exactly the sort of expertise one expects from such a restaurant. I pressed on, insisting someone in the kitchen must know where it came from, and I fear I offended her. She never really expressed any interest in us again. Turns out it wasn’t domestic at all, but imported from Italy. Ouch. The dish was excellent, and perhaps the nicest touch was that it was served simply with grilled bread. It wasn’t all gussied up in the American restaurant style with 3 or 4 superfluous ingredients. It was a nice dish.
Just as nice was our next course: garganelli with tomatoes, rabbit & olives. Garganelli is a hand-formed egg pasta, somewhat similar in shape to penne. This was a very successful dish, perhaps the most impressive of the meal. It showed excellent taste and balance. And it reminded me that I don’t cook with olives enough, and that I should be cooking rabbit too!
Less successful was the chicken scaloppine with mushrooms and arugula. To begin, it was way too big. Keep in mind that Dillon and I were sharing, and it was still impossible to finish. I’m not where the necessity to serve such large portions comes from, but it is an unfortunate trend in American restaurants, making it hard to eat multi-course meals in an Italian manner. The quality, however, was very good. It was breaded in the Milanese style, which is perhaps unimpressive to some, but when done well can be delightful. It was very successful from a technical point of view. The crust on the chicken was exquisitely crisp. But it perhaps lacked a certain something in personality, and topping it with braised mushrooms seemed a bit distracting, not to mention the fact that it moistened the exquisitely crisp crust.
Even with sharing, we were too full for dessert. Instead we treated ourselves to a quartino of Barolo. Profound and nourishing, as only Barolo can be.
We ended the meal with two macchiati, which were executed very well and brought the meal to a proper close. It’s always a good way to test whether a restaurant really cares.
Would I return? I think I would, particularly for more formal dinner service. But I can’t deny that I was put off by the disparity between service and pricing. If a restaurant aspires to a certain level of quality, quality of service can’t be shortchanged and really must equal the quality of cooking. Maybe we just had a bad day, but I would certainly hope the service to improve on a return visit.
Please note that Maialino is part of a growing trend of American restaurants adopting a no-tipping policy. The service charge is factored into the pricing on the menu, and this explains why the dishes might seem surprisingly expensive at first. We’re thrilled that other restaurants are adopting this model, and we’re proud to have done so years ago.
Justin Naylor, chef and proprietor of Old Tioga Farm