It could be considered irresponsible journalism to go to Maialino and NOT order the suckling pig. But pig is pig, n'est-ce pas? And a restaurant had better be able to stand on more than just its trotters to successfully endure the current economy with such aplomb. Plus, it's a Danny Meyer place. Expectations were high upon arrival merely for his reputation.
And really, any anxiety is unfounded. The room strikes the perfect balance of farmhouse elegance, with blue and white checked tablecloths peeking out from beneath starched white linens. A bit of porcine paraphernalia decorates the walls, but subtly so, with line drawings of butchery maps and quaint framed illustrations. More than a pork-centric restaurant is Maialino an intrinsically Italian one. The menu titles are in flawless Italian (a first), and described in user-friendly English. The descriptions are not deceptively minimalist, either; they are simply accurate. Chef Nick Anderer relies on provenance and quality of ingredients instead of pomp and foam. The kitchen doesn't seek to thrill, nor does it disappoint.
The menu is subject to major seasonal- even daily- variations, so there are some write-ins on the menu, as well as specials described by our waitress. We tried two different salads, both excellent, but the celery, fennel and piave fresco was exceptional: juicy and refreshing ratcheted up with pungently flavored shreds of ripe cheese and the roastiest of hazelnuts. The other, duet of radicchios (Castlefranco and tardivo) shared their team colors of rich burgundy
and pearly white with dripped jewels of aged balsamic reduction and paper-thin shavings of pecorino. Both are laudable salads, but if you need heartier fare there is a wide array of salumi, locally sourced and imported to secure the best of the best. The fritturas looked exquisite, too: one vegetarian with beets and artichokes and such, the other spliced with offal, sweetbreads and cauliflower.
The pastas we sampled were hit and miss, falling hard on both ends of the spectrum. The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe was salty, cheesy decadence. Not too creamy or heavy, but a salty tangle of noodles showcasing an uber-cheesiness ratcheted up with fragrant black pepper. Spaghetti con le Acciughe, while it
looked strikingly similar to the tonnarelli, was utterly flavorless, aside from the taste of perfectly cooked pasta and, well.. that was it. There wasn't much evidence of anchovies, and especially in contrast to the saltiness of the tonnarelli, not much seasoning at all. The filone cracklings just sort of added a bland crunch, and also annoyingly stuck to my teeth.
Secondi exhibited none of those flaws. Even though we didn't order the suckling pig, peeking at (and smelling) our neighbor's entrees confirmed it expertly done: salt-crusted skin perfectly crisped on the edges, giving in to a toothsome chew towards the center, and
tender, juicy meat that practically flaked like steamed cod. Speaking of which, the baccala in guazzetto flaked just so, a hefty
chunk of pristine white cod, whose mild flavor complemented a robust tomato sauce, rich and sweet with capers and pignoli, and nice little kick of peppery heat to finish. Storione alla griglia was simply that: a deliciously meaty steak of sturgeon plated with buttery crowns of roasted romanesco. No frills, no complaints.
Perhaps the most delicious things all night, though, was the funghi trifolati, which uncoincidentally was always a favorite of mine when I was living in Italy as well. These mushrooms are an absolutely perfect example of how a sautee of fungus should be. First of all, there a nice mingle of different varieties: hen-of-the-woods, shiitake, cremini, and chanterelles. Anchovies in the mix further amp up the umami factor, and white wine gives a nice little zing of freshness. I really could've eaten a big bowl of these (perhaps dumped on that flavorless spaghetti!) for a perfectly handsome repast. We tried the broccoli rapini as well, which was almost as wonderful. It had all but a smidge of bitterness cooked out of it, while retaining a nice bite along with the smoky char of high heat.
There is a really tempting dessert menu on hand as well (along with a strong cheese menu), but a prior engagement had us hustling out the door senza dolci. (I want to add that throughout writing this little synopsis, I've had to forcefully restrain myself from writing in Italian. The food is so purely Italian, so authentic and heartening, that it inspires the use of its language of provenance even just thinking about it.) Missing these was somewhat tragic, because I was really intrigued by the Torta Sbrisolona: a roasted pineapple crumb cake with verjus-rosemary sorbetto that sounded sublime. There're classics, too, like Torta della Nonna, and affogato in addition to a full cheese board. These could warrant a return just for dessert. trip. But that did allow us to sneak out that evening still in time to catch a glimpse of the SuperMoon, a rare occurrence that won't happen again until 2029. Ah, scusami... SuperLuna. Like so many things, Anderer's cooking included, it just sounds better in Italian.
2 Lexington Avenue