Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bad News/Good News -- Tabla closes, and Maialino opens

For those Danny Meyer fans out there (yes, me included!)  the closing of Tabla is a sad reflection on the state of the economy, and the viability of sustaining a restaurant devoted to Indian food, not to mention the fact that the space is so large that it seats over 280 people at a time.  Tabla has been around for 12 years, but if you put off going, you only have until year-end to make a trip.

The good news is that Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group appear to have another hit on their hands, the one-year old Maialino restaurant, in the Gramercy Park Hotel.  This is a lovely restaurant, modeled after the trattoria's of Rome, where Meyer spent about 18 months early on in his career.    I have been lucky enough to dine in the private room twice in the past couple of months, and the first time I dined there, the service wasn't quite up to Danny Meyer's standards, but the second time I went, I am happy to report, the staff far exceeded my expectations.

The reason to go, though, is not for the excellent service, but for the wonderful food.  The selection of Italian meats, from prosciutto to salumi, is divine.  I loved reading on the menu where the different meats were from -- a couple of selections from Long Island City, others from San Francisco, and still others from Rome.

Knowing what was coming on the second dining trip, I decided not to fill up on the fabulous bread assortment at the table.  I caved, though, when I reached over and grabbed a thin breadstick -- the kind that looks like a long, thick, strand of spaghetti.  Usually these are dry and lack flavor, but not these.  The wonderful explosion of cheese, and the melt-in-your-mouth texture had me dying for another bite, just to make sure I didn't dream it up.  It was even better the second bite!  I had to stop myself from grabbing the whole lot of cheesy/breadsticks and hording them for myself!

Luckily, if you can put it that way, the waiters came around with a plate of fried artichokes.  Between the artichoke pizza we ate a few weeks ago (see Kate's blog post on November 8, 2010), and the burst of flavor from this dish, I have now become a huge fan of artichokes. Who knew they could be so wonderful?

Other dishes included a wonderful assortment of sauteed mushrooms, swiss chard (another vegetable that has moved up to the top of my personal food chain, thanks to the addition of tomatoes and chili), and melt-in-your-mouth ravioli.

For something heartier, the fried cod is delicious, as is the swordfish and the aged sirloin.  I have not tried the suckling pig's foot yet, but I hear that it's spectacular -- it just gives me an excuse to return!

And don't forget dessert!  I tasted the wonderfully dense olive oil cake, and had to restrain myself from downing an entire chocolate tartufo. We were also served a pine nut tart, but I just couldn't eat another bite, so I had to pass. I'd love to go back and sample the sorbets and gelato -- I especially want to try "bruschetta de cannella" gelato and the quince sorbet.

Maialino is already shaping up to be a wonderful place to go with friends and family -- a crowd is definitely better, as you'll want to try everything!  The next time you have people coming in to town, take them here -- it's a guaranteed hit!