I went for brunch at Maialino a few weeks after they opened and had good experience, mostly because the ham and cheese panino I tried was one of the best sandwiches I had tasted in a long time. On the strength of that experience I went back this past weekend with a friend.
Well, gone are the days when you could just stroll in on a lazy weekend and sit down. This place has become insanely busy, with waits of upwards of 1.5 hours. It was pleasantly casual with a nice hum but not rambunctiously loud. Our waiter was cheerful and well-informed in the best Danny Meyer tradition. Unfortunately the focaccia in the bread basket was so oily that even I couldn't finish a slice. That, however, only meant that we had more room for the rest of the food.
We started with the bomboloni and cream. I loved them and wished they were at least three times as big. Sugary, chewy, luscious...how did cupcakes ever get to be more popular than donuts? Were these examples significantly better than other freshly made gourmet donuts? Possibly not. But that still leaves them as pretty darn good.
For a side I had the panino with salumi and pickled peppers. It wasn't as mouthgasmically memorable as the ham and cheese I had the first time, but it was still an excellent sandwich. The quality of the mortadella and salami inside were clearly top-notch, even through the tang of the peppers. The focaccia bread was much better as a sandwich base than it was alone.
My friend had the poached eggs with lentils and pork head terrine. This was absolutely delicious. It had very well conceived and executed layering of flavors. The lentils made a great base, cooked just long enough and with a little bit of vinegar added to play around their earthiness. The pork head terrine was deep fried and thus combined the crunch of freshly fried breading with the melting richness of pork...bits. Finally a perfectly poached egg on top. Just an egg, but hey, a nice runny egg makes everything better. When you got a bite with a little bit of every component the different tastes and textures really stacked up.
Finally, and my real reason for writing this review, I had the polenta with rabbit. This was a daily special, but I pray that they will offer it often enough for everyone to get a chance to try it. The concept was pretty straightforward: a bowl of polenta with a couple big chunks of rabbit on top and a little jus poured over everything. It blew my mind. The jus was so rich and soulful, every single bite of it so deeply satisfying that I was left running my fingers around the bowl to catch every last drop. The rabbit was tender and moist with not a hint of toughness or gaminess, and the polenta was creamy with just the right amount of graininess, but both were only there to provide a couple different backdrops for that amazing rabbit flavor. I think I've raved enough, but suffice to say this is a dish I would never pass up.
Over all it was a very good meal with nice service at extremely reasonable prices. I guess I understand why it's become so crowded.
2 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010