DESPERATE, WILL TWEET FOR FOOD –
aw hell, who am I kidding? anyone that knows me reasonably well, knows that I will do pretty much anything legal for a really good meal, so I didn’t think twice about losing any more self-respect than I usually don’t have by entering a contest last month sponsored by Gothamist.com, a NY-centric news and happenings-around-town site that I visit daily. to enter, you first had to sign-up to follow Gothamist on Twitter and then re-Tweet their posting of the contest prize, advertised as a “Roman Feast wine and food tasting at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel”. it sounded like something I could handle even though I’m a terrible Twitterer and had never re-Tweeted anything in my life (I had to look-up how to do it!). but hey, for a free meal in a heralded restaurant housed in a hipster hotel not far from me, I figured it was worth a shot.
since I had waffled back and forth on entering, by the time I did, the contest was almost over and I was shocked to learn that very few people – the same people who will happily Tweet their 140-character-or-less daily bowel movements to the universe – hadn’t bothered to enter. nevertheless, I was damn-near in need of smelling salts when I received the email that told me I had WON!
since “free” and “feast” are two of my favorite words in the English language, I was already licking my chops. but after checking out the menus on their website, I needed a bib to keep the drool from landing on the keyboard! I mean, what do you say about a restaurant whose signature dish is suckling pig?? I say, LET’S EAT!!
now for those of you who don’t live in NYC or are vegetarians, MAIALINO is Italian for “suckling pig” (stay with me as there is much more to enjoy here than you can possibly imagine) and this fine eating establishment is the newest jewel in the crown of Danny Meyer, arguably NYC’s most prolific and successful restauranteur. with Gramercy Tavern, 11 Madison Park and Union Square Cafe – some of the most respected restaurants in town – under his belt, Mr. Meyer also pioneered the trendy Shake Shack, now with several around town and another soon to open in Brooklyn. say what you will about the obscene lines that snake around Madison Square Park and presumably their other outposts, for what is supposed to be the best burger in town, I willingly humiliate myself several times each summer to join the waiting wolves for their insanely decadent frozen custard with mix-ins. I also frequent his Blue Smoke (Jazz Standard is the music venue upstairs), which is just a few blocks from me and trust me, one bite of the shrimp corndog appetizers there will make you a true believer in the God of Fried (see below).
but alas, I digress – I’ll get back to those corndogs one of these days. right now, it’s Roman Feast time! and since the feast was for two and it was my friend Miss Janee’s b’day a week or so away, I decided to take her along for the ride. she’s a fellow foodie chick and 100% Italian, so I knew we would have a great time – but really, we had NO idea what we were in for. after all, neither of us had eaten there before and I mean, how good could it be if there were giving it away in an online contest that hardly anybody entered? well we were about to find out that my silly little re-Tweet was about to reward me with one of the best overall meals I’ve had in years!
on that Thursday night, the restaurant was packed with well-heeled hipsters, business people, trendy out-of-towners – and then there was us – two single gals on the loose! despite our freebie status, we were ushered to our table like visiting dignitaries and proceeded to be treated like absolute royalty! first, there were these specially printed menus announcing what was to come:
since it was advertised as a food and wine tasting, we took one look at the incredible menu and thought: A) we were given them by mistake, and B) we probably got our choice of one from each course listing. but when our delightful server Dana came to greet us with a beautiful bread basket, gorgeous olive oil and a glass of Prosecco, he let us know that we would be getting all of it! yes, ALL OF IT! so there we are, grinning ear-to-ear as we clinked glasses to toast the start of this culinary orgy, when executive chef Nick Anderer (Google him! his accolades are well documented!) – who I’m sure had much better things to tend to in his kitchen – came out to personally greet us and let us know how happy he was to create and prepare this special menu for us. I say, another glass clink!
LET THE FOOD PARADE BEGIN!
so no sooner had we finished devouring the bread and our Prosecco, when the antipasti arrived. a gorgeous array of the freshest Fall market vegetables barely coated in bread crumbs and cooked to light, crispy perfection which allowed the true flavor of each to shine through. as if that wasn’t enough, there was the ultra-creamy, jaw-dropping Drowned Buffalo Bocconcini with a hint of mint that literally melted in your mouth in a way that could only be described as orgasmic. it was so insanely good, our eyes literally rolled up into our heads and Miss Janee and I agreed that it was without question, the best we’d ever eaten. the antipasti was paired with a beautifully light, white Italian wine which was so smooth, we almost didn’t notice the buzz coming on!
next up was our Primi course which consisted of two pastas: a black pepper and pecorino Tonnarelli and a Bombolotti all’Amatriciana with spicy tomato and guanciale, the latter being a sort of half-rigatoni pasta with an Italian bacon made from the pig’s cheek. we’ve probably all had fresh pasta from scratch, as well as pasta imported from Italy, but Maialino goes even beyond that by not only making their pasta fresh, but importing artisanal wheat from a man in Italy who grows this special blend on his own farm. talk about attention to details! the Tonnarelli really packed a peppery punch and the lovely red wine that accompanied the pastas was light, but very full-bodied, so it was easily able to stand on it’s own.
at this point, we were tipsy, stuffed full of unbelievable food goodness and overflowing with giddy joy at the personal attention we were getting from the super-friendly staff, but never mind all that, here comes their signature dish of roast suckling pig and roasted potatoes, with side dishes of a swiss chard and tomato stew and beautiful mushrooms in white wine and garlic! oh, and did I mention another incredibly tasty red wine? needless to say, there’s a reason why the suckling pig gets top billing here – it was so juicy and flavorful and with that wonderfully crispy skin on top – seriously, we thought we had died and gone to hog heaven.
unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we barely made a dent in the swiss chard-tomato stew, but the mushrooms were so divine, I went for seconds, with still some to take home in a doggy bag. oh yeah, sorry about the lousy pics. by the time I started snapping, I was a babbling fool in a booze and food haze taking pictures with a cell phone and sending Twitter updates from the table at the same time. and eating!
all that aside, despite being ready to explode from everything we’d already ingested, they presented us with a little something to cleanse our palettes: their mind-blowing, Concord Grape sorbet. listen, I like sorbet just fine, but next to creme brulee, it’s always going to be at the very bottom of my dessert wish list. however this glorious purple offering was totally in a class by itself! it was, to say the least, outrageously rich, divine and even weeks later, I can still recall the bursting, bold intensity of its flavor that was like eating the most beautiful, fresh grapes picked moments before they were prepared, only better. I have no idea if it’s a regular part of their menu, but it really should be. suggestion guys: pair that with some simple flavored biscotti and I’d call that a winning dessert!
and speaking of desserts, our insane, FREE, 2+hr. food-a-rama came to a close with two: a silky smooth panna cotta with a luscious fig topping (see pic below) and a chocolate tartufo (also below). while I’m normally a diehard chocoholic, we both thought the former completely outdid the latter, which was very good, but would’ve been better had we not had to fight the rock-solid frozen center – we literally had no strength left (or room in our stomachs!) to lift any eating utensil to our mouths even one more time. like im. possible.
drunk and nearly comatose, we thanked our gracious hosts and waddled our separate ways home to crash. I am still stunned by my good fortune at winning such an extravagant outing that was completely on the house (including tax and tip!) and want to give an extra shout-out to Maialino’s General Manager, Terry Coughlin and Ryan Pernice, who if I remember correctly is their PR/Social Media Director (Ryan, I’m officially “following” you now!). even though I was a food freeloader that night, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed and let me tell you, I truly savored every bite. and, I’ll be heading back sooner rather than later – some friends and I just booked Thanksgiving dinner there.
hey why not, one good gluttonous turn deserves another – even if this time, I’ll be paying for it!!