It is a running joke between Vronsky and me that I like my men like I like my wine: full-bodied and furry. While he's actually on the side of quite slim and really not that hairy, I really do like spicy, tannin-laden wines, and the wine I had tonight at Maialino, the restaurant that is a part of the Gramercy Park Hotel, was just that. It was a Sicilian wine, "Fastaia," and the perfect complement to the Roman cuisine we stuffed our face on at 5:30pm, because we could not get a reservation at any other time.
I was actually alright with that, as my day was so crazy that I literally did not have a moment to eat lunch, so by 5:00 I was starving and the fact that suckling pig was the house specialty was music to my ears. But first, I had to gorge myself on the delicious sampling of bread and olive oil that graced the table. The oil was a bit too salty for my own personal preference, but the bread was so perfect that I actually preferred it alone.
Then came the salumi mista, along with a generous sampling of olives, which Vronsky does not like, so I got to relish them all myself. The salumi station is actually next to the bar, so you could see the meat being sliced with loving care. After reading how salumi was made in Bill Buford's Heat, I appreciate the explosion of taste in each bite even more.
Next, I had the agnolotti di zucca, which was essentially pumpkin ravioli with balsamic and pine nuts. It was delicious, but not not original, and I had a better version of that same dish at another Danny Meyer restaurant, Union Square Cafe. Vronsky's dish however, the bucatini all'Amatriciana, was excellent. The spicy tomato sauce was just that: spicy and tomato-y, and the bucatini was perfectly al dente. There was just a bit of Guanciale to give it some richness that cut the brightness of the sauce a wee bit.
Then came the suckling pig, which is not for the faint of heart or stomach. It is incredibly rich and the fat is almost as thick as the meat. As someone who is used to the Cantonese style of pig or duck in this manner, where the fat is almost completely rendered, seeing that snowy layer of fat just under the crackling was a bit surprising, although it does make everything delicious. In the end, however, I separated the fat from the meat and crackling and went to town. It is rich and flavorful and the roasted brussel sprouts were the palate cleanser.
For desert, we managed to make room for the torta sbrisolona, an almond and apple crumb cake with caramel gelato. Pure heaven for someone who loves anything pie-like, fruity or nutty. Round that off with a bit of espresso, and I can't wait to come back for the early bird special again!
Do not be intimidated by the location of the restaurant. While it certainly is not cheap, it is not necessarily expensive for a night out, as the portions are Continental-sized and served family style, so go with someone who is willing to share and you'll be able to try lots of things within a fair price range.
Next time, I would like to try a different secondi (I can only take suckling pig once every year, if that) and I would also like to try a more authentically Roman past dish, which tend to not be as saucy as the country Italian fare and more egg-based, like the bombolotti alla Cricia, which is pasta, egg, some Guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), and pepper. I would also love to try a cheese selection as well...I could scare enjoy my espresso because I was eyeballing the cheese tray of the people next to us, but my stomach was simply too full!