Among New York restauranteurs, it’s hard to name a more bankable success than Danny Meyer. From Union Square Cafe, to Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, Eleven Madison Park, and The Modern, his restaurants have never failed.
Meyer’s knack for this business can’t be attributed to any one thing. He has a keen sense of “the moment,” he doesn’t do the same thing twice, he puts smart people in charge, and he focuses relentlessly on the customer. At a Meyer restaurant, you’ll never see a bartender who can’t transfer the tab to your table, or a host that refuses to seat incomplete parties. So it was at Meyer’s latest creation, Maialino, where I arrived thirty minutes too early, but they offered to seat me anyway, in a dining room booked solid for the evening.
That was so Danny Meyer.
Maialino, Meyer’s first Italian restaurant, replaces the failed Wakiya in the Gramercy Park Hotel. It’s a perfect location, with panoramic windows facing the park. It’s also perfect for Meyer, whose restaurant empire is all (except for The Modern) in walking distance of Madison Square, allowing him to keep close tabs on his growing brood.
The space is decked out like a modern trattoria, with a design by David Rockwell that seems instantly authentic. We would ditch the checked under-cloths at the tables, which look a bit too Little Italy.
Even Danny Meyer isn’t recession-proof. The antipasti are $9–14, the primi $13–17, the secondi mostly in the twenties. The menu also accommodates grazers, with a wide selection of salumi and formaggi, available individually or on platters serving anywhere from two to six. You’ll spend less here than in most of Meyer’s other restaurants, but we suspect that prices will be $10–20 more per person in a year or two.
The word Maialino refers to suckling pig, which recurs in several dishes. The pièce de resistance is a half-pig for $68. We were tempted to try it, but it feeds two to three people, and would have been wasted on us.
Zampina di Maialino, or Suckling Pig’s Foot ($14; above left), offered an ample bounty of smoky pink pork meat. It was served on a bed of heirloom beans that weren’t very good. Malfatti al Maialino, or suckling pig ragu with arugula and hand-torn pasta ($17; above right), was under-seasoned; the flavors barely registered.
Coda alla Vaccinara, or oxtails with carrots and celery ($23; above left), were tender from braising, but they were served in a dull sauce. Bistecca, or aged sirloin ($29; above right), was an enjoyable hunk of meat for a non-steakhouse, but the beans that accompanied the pig’s foot made an unwelcome re-appearance.
Service was excellent, as you expect in a Danny Meyer restaurant. Meyer himself was in the house, and stopped by most tables to say thanks, including ours. He said thank you again as we were leaving. Such is his reputation that we had much higher hopes for the food. But at a Danny Meyer restaurant, you can safely assume it will get better.
Maialino (2 Lexington Avenue at 21st Street, Gramercy Park)