“It’s significant for us to be opening in Washington, D.C., ” says Meyer, who has several Shake Shacks in the District. Maialino Mare, he says, “is our only full-service restaurant not in Manhattan.”
While the fresh face borrows ideas from Meyer’s Roman-style Maialino in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel, the Washington restaurant is an attempt for his Union Square Hospitality Group to “give D.C. something we hadn’t done before.” As its name suggests, Maialino Mare has more of a seafood focus. An early hit pairs supple fettuccine with sweet ruby red shrimp, a union bound with butter and pecorino.
Installing Rose Noel as executive chef was a no-brainer. The Brooklyn native includes Maialino on her résumé. Most recently, she opened Manhatta, Meyer’s room with a view on the 60th floor of the 28 Liberty Street building in Manhattan. Noel’s mantra is that of a discerning Italian chef: “Simple food, done well,” a philosophy made apparent in every dish I sampled after scoring an already-challenging reservation.
Fried baby artichokes — crisp and greaseless — are as good as any I’ve had in Rome, which Noel and some of the principals toured ahead of opening Maialino Mare. Octopus is on menus everywhere but “everywhere” does not braise the beast to such succulent chew, then char it so you can taste the seafood through the smoke. Do you really want to order chicken, a staple of hotel restaurants everywhere? You really do, here at least, where the peppery main course has its heat repeated in a pool of sauce, red as fire and tingling with heat.
Maialino, in English, means “little pig.” Do yourself a favor and ask for the malfatti, flat pasta strewn with braised suckling pig that’s been seasoned with little more than fennel and onions. The pork, in other words, shines. Make time for the tiramisu, too, among the dreamiest in town.
Half-curtains in the windows and blue-checkered table covers are cheery touches in the expansive dining room, poised to serve three meals a day and weekend brunch. (Scrambled eggs with bottarga? I’m in!)
As at all Union Square Hospitality Group attractions, the company’s latest restaurant is well-stocked with smiles and smarts. When the bill is dropped off, servers point out another reason to admire the collection: There’s no line for a tip. Hospitality is included in the price of a meal and throughout the restaurant. “Guests love not having to buy their coat back,” says Meyer.
He wants his far-flung colleagues to feel connected. He also thinks staff in both cities can learn from one another. Hence the presence of a handful of veteran employees from New York, or what the host with the most calls “the mother yeast.”
221 Tingey St. SE. 202-508-5249. maialinomare.com. Dinner entrees, $24 to $74 (for suckling pig for two).
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