I have been hearing about Maialino for a long time now, and I feel like the last blogger on earth to have stopped by. During Christmas time, I make it a point to look for reservations that I ordinarily couldn’t get at any other time of year. While tourists flood the city in the week leading up to Christmas, Christmas eve and Christmas day usually leave the city blissfully empty. I’m not great at planning 28 days out (the point at which Maialino reservations open up) but I am quite good at looking on OpenTable.com for the following day. To my surprise, Maialino was had a reservation open for a 1:30pm brunch (linner?) on Christmas Eve.
The restaurant is rustic and relatively casual. It’s decorated in a way that makes you feel instantly at home, and the service adds to the warm welcome.
We started with the Carciofini Fritti, which is fried artichokes with an anchovy bread sauce. Artichokes are one of my favorite foods in the entire world, and these did not disappoint. The anchovy sauce added a delicious salty flavor to it without overpowering the artichoke flavor.
Full disclosure… it was at this point that our waiter took me entirely by surprise and asked me if I was a food blogger. Flustered, I blurted out that I was. I always feel bad when a restaurant knows that I’m going to be writing about them… some don’t like it and just get annoyed that I’m there… and others go out of their way to make it better since they know I’ll be writing. Maialino took the latter approach… which wound up being quite fortuitous because we tried things that we would not have otherwise. They did send it over “on the house,” which was very, very nice of them.
Starting with what we ordered, we chose the Contadino, which had 3 of my favorite things: poached eggs, brussels sprouts, and squash (buttercup squash to be exact).
I love brussels sprouts and can’t believe I spent so much of my life without eating them. I always prefer them halved and browned, but the leaves of the sprouts in this dish still tasted very full and had great flavor. I don’t know how much the squash added to it in terms of flavor, but it made for a great sauce when mixed with the eggs.
Which, by the way, were perfectly poached. Mmm mmm mmm.
We also ordered the namesake, the Maialino pasta (Malfatti al Maialino). I was a bit confused because the description said it was suckling pig ragu and arugula, and we saw no arugula. UPDATE: I found out that the pasta we received was actually the Bombolotti all’Amatriciana. This was right above the Mailalino pasta on the menu, and I may have pointed since my Italian pronunciations leave something to be desired.
BUT, I have to say, the guanciale in this pasta were otherworldly. We will have to go back and try the Malfatti al Maialino soon!
With these 2 dishes, they nicely sent over a sample of the thick cut black pepper bacon. This was a moment where I silently said my thanks to the food gods. This was tender, full of flavor, and tasted exactly like heaven should taste.
Damn was I glad we got to try this. It was our favorite part of the savory meal (and the rest of the meal was great).
The chef, Nick Anderer, came out to greet us and make sure we were enjoying everything. He was very kind and seemed genuinely happy to be talking with us. We complimented him on the amazing meal and when he asked if we had room for dessert, we couldn’t say no.
He picked out some for us to try, and it’s a good thing he did, because I would probably have not ordered these items and they wound up being absolutely awesome.
We started with a duo of gelati, with salted caramel on top and stracciatella di mandorl (which was, if I remember correctly, an almond ice cream with a coffee swirl through it). It was served with a chocolate biscotti. Both were sensational. Strong, delicious flavors melded into a perfectly creamy cup.
We also tried the brioche caramellato, which was a toffee glazed brioche that tasted a lot like a cinnamon roll in all the right ways. I LOVE toffee, and this did not disappoint.
The final item that came out was something I would NEVER have ordered (and looking back, they weren’t on the menu to order!): Zeppoles. They came with an apple cider reduction sauce.
WOW. I wanted to drink (or bathe in) that sauce. I wound up eating a good amount of it by the spoonful and drizzled it on both the ice cream and the brioche. It was THAT GOOD.
And the zepoles? These were NOT your NJ Carnival Zepoles. These were airy, light, perfectly cooked warmed donuts that could rival the beignets at Cafe du Monde (one of my favorite places) any day.
I also ordered a capuccino, which was just beautiful (and delicious).
I was impressed. It is rare that a place lives up to the hype, but Maialino was definitely one of the best. I would love to go back for every other meal they have a menu for just to be able to try new things each time. The service was impeccable (even before they learned my dirty secret) and we didn’t have a bad bite. We did, however, need a pusher to roll us out when we were done.
Word to the wise: Get the bacon… and the desserts. All of them.
Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10