12/31/09 - the day after my meal at Per Se I tried to sleep in – I swear I did – I even stayed up until 1:30am talking to my friends the day before, but coming off so many consecutive days of work I woke at the crack of dawn and figured there was no sense wasting vacation time. Showered, shaved, dressed I made my way on foot to the train station and found myself at Penn Station just after 7:45am. Having not planned for breakfast I figured I’d make my way up to Bouchon or Petrossian but instead decided a long walk and pancakes sounded better and made my way south to the Gramercy/Flatiron area to experience Danny Meyer’s latestet enterprise – Maialino.
Having experienced exceptional meals at EMP, Gramercy Tavern, and The Modern in past years I guess I went entered Maialino with a certain expectation – great food, better service, and a comfortable setting – perhaps I should have thought differently when I arrived to a broken front door to the restaurant causing me to be filed through the hotel lobby where a snooty doorman asked me if I was “lost.” Informing him that I actually knew precisely where I was going and that there was a sign on Maialino’s door pointing me to the lobby I received an “oh, sorry” and a finger pointing me in the direction of the clearly marked restaurant.
Entering the doors to a restaurant less than 1/4 full I told the hostess I’d like a table for one to which she stated – well, we can seat you in the bar, we serve the full menu there. Taking my coat and bag and handing me a check ticket I was led to the bar area without even being offered a seat in the main room – seats which remained empty throughout my 35 minute “experience.” Browsing the room I have to admit I liked the feel of the room, though the overhead Coldplay certainly didn’t require quite as much volume. Watching the young (and largely unprofessional) female serving the tables to my right flirt with some younger guys without even acknowledging my table I sat unattended for approximately 5 minutes before my server finally came and offered me water and coffee – highly touted as being from San Francisco.
Offered in a 2-serving press-pot or a single 8oz glass ($5.50 and $3.25 respectively) the coffee was good but certainly not on par with Blue Bottle or Intelligentsia (in San Francisco and Chicago respectively) or even Illy. No refills, sorry – I drank water for the rest of my meal.
Browsing the menu I noted a couple items that sounded good and asked my server his opinion between the pork Panini and the pancakes – obviously he said everything on the menu was good but he preferred the pancakes. Taking his advice I ordered the pancakes and the Bombolini and sat back to watching the crowd around me receive their food – food that looked quite meager, honestly – many items a portion-size that would be appropriate for a 20+course tasting at Alinea or Per Se (and nowhere near the quality.) I laughed inside quite heartily when a neighboring couple of 50+ years received the pork Panini and a muffin – the muffin about the size of a grade-A large egg and the Panini (no lie) about the size of a piece of bunny bread cut diagonally to make a sandwich approximately 1.5 inches thick – the man himself chuckled at it and called the $14 price tag “ridiculous” as he finished it in three bites.
When my dishes arrived they weren’t much more impressive – two pieces of “toast” that essentially tasted like the communion host at a Catholic Church – no butter or jam, I took a bite and left the rest.
With regard to the pancakes – they were decent, albeit again quite meager for the price. With water glass sitting empty on my table at this point I poured pure maple syrup (a nice touch, it was warmed) over the thin pancake and ricotta (note, GOOD ricotta pancakes incorporate the cheese into the batter) and took a bite – a little crisp with a fluffy center, mild hints of lemon, nothing to write home about.
Finishing with the Bombolini donuts (and requesting my water refill) they were again alright–each about the size of a Dunkin Donut hole – and filled with a smooth vanilla cream. At $5 for the two small donuts I can’t say I’d recommend them – especially when Bouchon, A Voce, and others serve much better versions.
Receiving my bill and adding a modest tip the total cost of my trip to Maialino was nearly $30 and I left feeling as though I’d eaten nothing, been sat in a bar, and gotten poor service – pretty much the exact opposite of everything I’d previously experienced at a Danny Meyer establishment. Perhaps the empire is growing too fast or perhaps the breakfast service is just too new – I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t go back or recommend anyone go check it out.
Leaving the restaurant and nowhere near my caffeine limit I made my way over to Dunkin for a $2 coffee that was only slightly less nuanced (and 12oz larger) than the cup at Maialino and as it had started snowing I decided to make my way on foot up through the already busy Times Square, through Macy’s, and to Central Park where I watched people build snowmen, throw snowballs, and enjoy the last day of the year. Having read that Bouchon would be closed from January 1st until the 11th I also made my way back to TWC to see if they had any holiday items and was surprised to see they were still offering the Gingerbread Cupcake I’d heard so much about.
Ordering the cupcake ($3.75 and as big as at least 5 Bombolini) I made my way to the café to eat and actually ran into someone I’d known from Medical school in Toledo in the process. After a short chat I sat down to enjoy the cupcake and was, as usual, very impressed by the texture of the cakes served at Bouchon – dense and springy but light and fluffy – somewhere between pound cake and angels food cake but this time a bit more coarse than the red velvet or chocolate in the past. Topped and filled with the same beautiful marshmallow/cream cheese cream and topped with candied ginger that provided a nice contrast and compliment to the ginger, cinnamon, molasses flavor of the cupcake – it was better than anything at Maialino and gram for gram probably more substantial than the $30 meal.