Finally, a restaurant in the headlines delivers on its promise. Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s (Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, Eleven Madison Park) latest venture is a Roman-style trattoria emphasizing pork (maialino means “little pig”). Off of affluent Gramercy Park, the lunch clientele on the day we visited was dominated
by older guys with corporate cards and substantial waistlines, but a smattering of more subdued types mixed in with them, including John Lithgow trying to look invisible in the corner with his book. Like dutiful New Yorkers, everyone pretended not to see him.
We started with carciofini fritti, or fried baby artichokes, served with an “anchovy bread sauce.” I suppose the bread was meant to thicken the sauce because it had the consistency of an emulsified vinaigrette. In Rome, they tend to smash and twice-fry the entire large artichoke, but the baby version was wholly satisfying, like Roman French fries.
Next, we tried pesce spada affumicato, or smoked swordfish, served with pickled red onion and caper berry salad. “Smoked anything” is not my bag, and we ordered it at the request of my guest, but it was a pleasant carpaccio, and the onion-caper berry salad made for a delightfully pungent counterpart.
For pastas, we ordered the ricotta ravioli with brown butter, lemon, and sage; and malfatti al maialino, or suckling pig and arugula on torn sheets of egg pasta (pictured at top). The overwhelming ingredient in both ingredients was butter, but the extended jog I would need later was totally worth it. I tend to “test” an Italian restaurant on how it makes ravioli. Often the pasta is rolled too thick out of laziness or lack of technique, and it feels like a heavy-handed dumpling in your mouth. These were pillowy and satisfying. And fried sage will never be denied by this girl.
The malfatti—o mamma! The lean yet flavorful pork among strips of egg pasta smothered in a tart lemon butter was delicate yet tangy. I had to stop myself from asking for another serving.
To recover, we enjoyed a perfectly suitable affogato, or a scoop of gelato “drowned” in an espresso shot. I was a little disappointed in the ice-laden quality of the gelato, but by that point I was just fishing for the caffeine.
Like every good Danny Meyer restaurant, the service was well-executed and without pretense (although our waitress seemed oddly distracted by Mr. Lithgow, who was not even her customer). Ultimately, it is this quality that makes Meyer’s restaurants so pleasant. The customer dines in a golden ticket restaurant without being reminded of the fact, every five minutes, by a prepossessed staff.
Other NYC restaurant reviews:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It
Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Marea: Do Your Homework
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food?