Maialino has always been one of those easy, solid, high probability recommendations over the past 3 years. I’ve recommended it to people not only looking for “Italian” in NYC but also “Not Italian”, with the hopes that if anything will convert them this is it. I’ve been singing its praise to restaurant owners from Naples to Alba while touring the country. I’ve been a fan of Nick Anderer for years, and since meeting him at the Parla/Bonci event at Paulie Gee’s, had some fun conversations with him at Marta, which is one of my favorite new places in town. Hence, its somewhat awkward for me to write this post, but I’m doing it out of love and appreciation, not hate. I would hate to see the place turn into another Union Square Cafe
The meal wasnt terrible by any stretch. But the name carries certain expectations, and anticipations, especially when its a special birthday dinner with the family. I always think about that walk to the park with my friend Val and his Bulldog Rocco who out of sheer excitement, farts his way the entire length of the walk until he finally gets to his favorite pooping spot. You can feel and smell the anticipation along the way. But imagine if after all these years, Rocco finds out that his spot has been discovered by a Yorkshire Terrier, or worse, replaced by a condominium development. Something was off the other night, and I’m hoping it was just a Sunday night off-night
The Salumi here has never been a strong suit to begin with, although I found the selection plate still orderable partly due to lack of other desirable options (where’s that octopus when you need it). The Mortadella for example is cut thick with texture and taste resembling its bastardized Bologna more than actual Mortadella.
The Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara still delivered, although the Cacio carried a little less magic than in the past. But that Guanciale in the Carbonara, I can chew on that forever. Or more like 5 minutes, which is like a lifetime in Guanciale years. The Pappardelle was just fine. Chunks of tender nicely cooked pork with light cream. Not your typical Ragu, and missing that beautiful marriage between meat and pasta.
For main we shared another pasta, the Malfatti with the braised Maialino (suckling pig) and arugula. But wait a minute, this dish looks familiar. As in 7 minutes ago familiar. Way too identical to the Pappardelle, but sounded much different. “Malfatti” I suppose is a very loose interpretation of something misshaped or badly formed, and I’ve always associated it with ugly pasta-less (more like gnocchi) ricotta/spinach dumplings as in Al Di La in Brooklyn. But here it looks like hand ripped thin pasta, like Pappardelle “squares”. The pig had decent flavor if not a bit one-note (salt), but by this point we were craving for something more Raguish. The Garganelli which I enjoyed in the past with rabbit could have filled the void but was missing in action.
Very often one dish can make or break a meal, and in this case the decider was the Oxtail. When I had the dish before, the beautiful tender meat was easily falling off the bone in liberal fashion. This time I had to work hard managing the unrendered fat, distributing the kill like a mother wolf feeding her three babies. The surprising highlight of the evening was the panna cotta look-alike Cheesecake with sour cherries. Hope I’m still welcomed at Marta, but if not I’ll understand
Oh no. I hope not.
Malfatti is a commonly-used description for hand-torn flat pasta, but “maltagliati” (badly cut) is more common for what Maialino is serving. I’ve had that dish at Maialino and was unimpressed, but that was at least 2 years ago, so I can’t say anything has gone downhill. I think the dish itself is misconceived, and may actually be on the menu as a sop to people who don’t want to spring for the restaurant’s famous roast pork dish, because of its cost and size, but who still would like to taste the pork. But more importantly, it might be that your real difficulty is that your standards and expectations have been raised for having eaten more extensively and recently in Italy. In particular things like cured meats from Emilia Romagna are impossible to translate to New York.