Maialino at Gramercy Park Hotel- New York

One of the hottest restaurants in New York City and the winner of 2011 Zagat Survey’s Best New Restaurant in New York is Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria in the exclusive Gramercy Park area.   This quaint Italian restaurant is the newest addition to restaurateur Danny Meyer’s empire which includes the Shake Shack chain, Eleven Madison Park, Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern (voted 2011 Zagat Survey New York’s most popular restaurant for the 6th time in 10 years).   With dinner reservations being booked for months ahead since its opening last fall and the walk-in bar perennially overflowing with patrons, breakfast or lunch is an easier alternative to trying Maialino.  In fact, lunch may be one of the best times to dine there, when the bright warm sun shines through the large bay windows that look out onto Gramercy Park- but even for lunch, you’ll have to make a reservation weeks in advance. 

Located off of Gramercy Park Hotel’s main lobby, Maialino’s interior creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that naturally encourages mingling, conversation and feasting.  Next to the large open bar are the charcuterie, cheese, pastry and bread counters that are lined with mouthwatering delicacies that emanate enticing aromas.  Walk past the counters to arrive at the rear dining room where the blue checkered tablecloths and antique framed photos of Italy will transport you to a rustic Roman trattoria.  The Italian menu comes courtesy of Executive Chef Nick Anderer, who got his first big start at Babbo, then spent a year working in Milan after which he returned to New York City to cook at Gramercy Tavern.  The menu draws its inspirations from classic Roman dishes using locally grown seasonal produce. 

When Danny Meyers used to work in Rome, locals affectionately called him Meyerlino, which means ‘little Meyer’.  Eventually that name morphed into Maialino, which means ‘little pig’, hence the name of the restaurant and the theme of the menu which is slow-roasted crispy-skinned suckling pig.  Trotters, guanciale and different cuts of suckling pig find its way throughout the menu. 

Trippa alla Trastaverina is a beautiful plate of tender strips of tripe stewed in a tomato based sauce, coated with generous sprinklings of pecorino and mint.  Pile the tripe onto their freshly baked bread, wait for a few seconds for the tomato sauce to soak through the top layer and devour it whole.  The tripe melts like butter and tastes like heaven. 

Other enticing antipastis include chicken liver and aged balsamic crostone di fegato, and fried artichokes in anchovy bread sauce (carciofini fritti).  A plate of assorted charcuterie featuring prosciutto di Parma from Emilia-Romagna and soppressata picante from Long Island with buffalo mozzarella will make lunch even more perfect.

Insalata Misticanza is a simple salad made with seasonal greens, lemon and olive oil, and even this is fantastic, as all produce are from the Greenmarket farmers market. 

One of their signature dishes is the Malfatti al Maialino, a buttery suckling-pig ragù that clings onto folded sheets of hand torn malfatti pasta.  Generous chunks of tender pork are magnificent, its fattiness cut by bitter arugula.  The dish is perfect, but I can’t help but wonder how the pasta would taste with a few bits of crispy maialino pork skin thrown in.  

Other primi pasta dishes stick to Roman classics, like bucatini all’Amatriciana, fettuccine alla Carbonara (both with guanciale) and tonnarelli cacio e pepe. Paninis for brunch and lunch feature a porchetta sandwich with slow roasted suckling pig and egg.

Secondis offer a wide variety of proteins, like hanger steak bistecca di bue, pollo milanese, suckling pig terrine and suckling pig’s foot, but our server insists that we get the swordfish.  How can swordfish be the best thing on the menu?  It’s always overcooked, tough, tasteless and boring.  I push through my skepticism and follow his orders.  He is right.

Pesce Spada is a simple no-fuss dish with grilled swordfish, eryngii king trumpet mushrooms and sprinkles of fennel fronds, but so perfect in execution that it becomes sensational.  The swordfish is tender, buttery, rich and delicious. 

Desserts offer a classic lineup of Italian sweets, like gianduja budino, torta della nonna, affogato and a variety of gelato.  Torta di Olio d’Oliva, an olive oil cake with vanilla bean mascarpone, pleases with a rich nutty flavor inside a soft moist batter. 

Other sections of the Gramercy Park Hotel, newly renovated by Ian Schrager, are worth a visit.  The majestic lobby lined with crimson red carpet and tall wooden ceilings are awe inspiring, and every nook and cranny shows a diffferent combination of design form.   Some flaunt eerie goth embellishments like shark tooth sword lamps, while others transport you to the hotel in ‘The Shining’.

Large chandeliers and dramatic red velvet curtains set the stage for contemporary paintings by Warhol, Basquiat and Haring, but once you step into the exclusive bar that branches off of the lobby, you will see an expression of 21st century bohemia.   Whichever section of the hotel you decide to browse, it will be a magical escape far away from the sights and sounds of the concrete jungle outside. 

The Private Roof Club and Garden upstairs is another gorgeous Ian Schrager space, with tables and a bar situated underneath a retractable roof 16 stories above the city.  The ceiling of the indoor lounge features an incredible mass of hanging light bulbs, perhaps numbering in the 300’s, that add to the drama of the intimate space. 

The outdoor section evokes an urban oasis, a tropical greenhouse in the middle of the city,  with wicker chairs strewn along a corridor of hanging ivy and potted green plants. 

Most likely you’re not one of the privileged few who reside in and have a key to the private Gramercy Park, but the rooftop club will do for now.  Gaze out onto the park and the rest of Manhattan while you sip on martinis on your private little bench in the corner.  All yours, at least for a couple of hours until you close your bill.   

Maialino at Gramercy Park Hotel

2 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(212) 777-2410

Random trivia:  Did you know that the swordfish has the widest temperature tolerance of any billfish,  with the ability to swim the surface and dive to depths of 2,100 feet (650 m) or greater, where the water temperature may be just above freezing?  They have a ‘brain and eye heater’, a special bundle of tissue that insulates and warms these organs.  This helps to prevent rapid cooling and damage to the brain, and increases visual acuity in cold deep waters.

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Rivera Restaurant

Culver City is SO last year.  Downtown LA is the hot culinary mecca of the moment in Los Angeles, as new bars and restaurants are opening just as quickly as the Ritz Carlton tower is going up.  From Liberty Grill to Wurstkuche, Drago Centro to Bottega IMG_9082Louie, there are more reasons to flock to downtown LA now.  Even after the exponential surge of kitchy downtown lofts and swank hotel bars a few years ago, it still seemed like downtown was dead; there never seemed to be a good enough reason to congregate there.  After events at the Staples Center or the Disney concert hall, my friends and I would opt to return to the west side for dinner and drinks.  Now Angelenos are willingly drudging through horrible freeway traffic and paying expensive parking fees in order to indulge in the latest dining adventures there.

IMG_9075The most notable on the scene is Rivera, a Latin-themed restaurant recently opened by chef John Rivera Sedlar.  The impressive menu incorporates Latin flavors from his extensive travels through South America, Mexico and Spain, southwestern comfort from his upbringing in New Mexico, and French techniques from his culinary training.  The large beautiful space is split into many sections, each with a unique theme and design.  IMG_9079A minimalist square communal table stands next to a sushi counter-esque ceviche bar that looks out onto the busy open kitchen.  On the other end is the elegant and dark Sangre room, illuminated in eerie shades of blood red from the large chandelier above and golden yellow through the backdrop of tequila bottles.  Flanked in the middle are specially made tequila tasting chairs, more dining tables with gorgeous leather banquettes, and the classy tequila bar.  They even have outdoor counter seating where you can get an unobstructed view of the majestically lit LA Live complex.  The contemporary space is sexy, dark and mysterious.

We started with the patates xips, Kennebec potato chips with caviar, microgreens and chipotle lime cream.  It was a nice starter to complement our Brut champagne, although one thing I’ve learned about caviar is that ‘more is better’- another heap of caviar would have elevated this dish from great to perfect.

Tortillas florales, housemade Nixtamal tortillas with ‘Indian butter’.  Chef Sedlar explained to us that the maize was freshly ground in the kitchen and handmade the traditional way ‘by our señoras’.  With chives and edible flowers pressed into each warm piece, these adorable earthy tortillas with the smooth and creamy avocado butter brought me one step closer to understanding and appreciating the culinary history of the Americas.


Caballito de sopas dobles– 2 Latin soups with different flavors and different temperatures.  A layer of warm lamb velouté with black beans was layered on top of cold refreshing potato vichyssoise.  It was an interesting and inventive concept, and I especially loved the creaminess and flavor of the potato soup.  Although the lamb velouté tasted more like a sauce than a soup at first, once the 2 soups came together inside my mouth, I realized the delicious intention behind this dish.

At this time the sommelier opened an absolutely delicious bottle of 2006 Alto Moncayo Garnacha, Campo de Borja Spanish wine for us.  It was a good decision to trust him with the wine selection, as their wine list was overwhelmingly extensive.  It was an impressive collection that had selections from Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, and an even more amazing selection of sherries, marsalas and ports.  The Alto Moncayo was one of the best Spanish wines that I have had in a long time.  After my meal at Rivera, I hunted it down at the Woodland Hills Wine Company and bought a half dozen for myself.

Chile pasilla relleno– pickled pasilla chile with burrata cheese, served chilled.  The pasilla chile was marinated for a day in vinegar, salt and sugar, and had a deep smokey flavor with an acid kick.  As Chef Sedlar proudly presented the dish to us, he explained that this was his interpretation of the classic chile relleno.  “People normally think of chile relleno as a big green chile with lots of goopy melted cheese.  You’ll find that this one has an intense flavor” he said, with kind gentle eyes and a friendly smile.  “It’s also a dish with a political statement”, he added with a wink. Indeed, stenciled above the pasilla in brick red chile powder was that street sign that most of us have seen near the Mexican border on the 5 South.

Choros al Vapor– mussels with aji amarillo-pisco broth.  Aji amarillos are yellow Peruvian chiles, and pisco is a South American grape liquor.  This dish to me was a bit too mellow and almost fruity and sweet, lacking in robustness and depth.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota pata negra– of course, how can we not order this?  An absolute joy, as always, to have this succulent flavorful cut of the finest ham in the world.  Paired with the Alto Moncayo wine, I would have been happy just eating this all evening.

Mole Kurobuta pork chop- an intense mole sauce coating a juicy succulent kurobuta pork chop.  This dark and rich mole sauce was absolutely exquisite.  It was a perfect blend of smokey chile flavors with the slight bitterness of cacao.  I usually don’t like dark mole sauces as they tend to be too sweet for my taste, but this one was polished and flawless.

Carne churrasco prime ‘eye’ of rib-eye steak with cabrales cheese, onion foam, aji amarillo sauce, purple potatoes, yam, carrots and green onions.  It was a well-executed dish, but the fantastic pork chop with mole sauce was a hard act to follow.

Estudio en flan– three different styles of the classic flan with progressing degress of sweetness, with three complementary sauces.  The first flan was light and fresh like a panna cotta, made with vanilla beans and paired with a blackberry curry sauce.  The second flan was like a traditional custard flan with a medium consistency and smoky caramel flavor.  This, paired with a lime mint sauce, was my favorite flan.  The third flan, served with strawberry jus, was thick and dense like a block of cheese.  Overall this was a delightful and innovative dessert that paired wonderfully with a glass of tequila de mujer, a vanilla infused tequila that was a Rivera special.  Tequila with dessert?  I was hesitant at first, but the knowledgable sommelier was right again. This tequila was divine.

Olive oil cake with 2 sorbets (créme fraîche and strawberry), with spanish balsamic sherry vinegar marinated strawberries.  This was another winning dish with an incredibly moist cake and marinated strawberries that had a perfect balance of tart and sweet.

As I finished the fabulous meal, I listened to Chef Sedlar talk about his passion for tequila as he pointed to the beautiful walls of the Sangre room lined with glass bottles of high grade Jalisco tequila.  Each bottle is kept under lock and key, and for a $1200 membership, you can get your name engraved on the side of your bottle.

IMG_9068The dishes at Rivera were bursting with flavor and imagination, and the wine and tequila were amazing.  The ambiance was sexy, and the contemporary decor was avant-garde with a touch of class.  The staff was incredibly warm and attentive, and I fell in love with Chef Sedlar’s grace and charm.  Rivera is a new beacon of culinary radiance in the once lifeless downtown LA.

Rivera

1050 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-5100
(213) 749-1460

Random trivia:   Last year scientists discovered that they can make synthetic diamond crystals from tequila.  Even the cheapest brands of tequila, at $3 a bottle, were good enough to make diamonds.