2 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10010 (map); 212-777-2410; maialinonyc.com
Service: Accommodating and flawless
Setting: Danny Meyer and David Rockwell's reimagined Roman trattoria
Compare It To: Locanda Verde, Morandi, Balthazar
Must-Haves: Brioche, Thick Cut Bacon, Roast Pork and Fried Egg Panino, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Cost: $10-30 a person, depending on what you have
I've heard from countless Italian food experts that Italians in Italy as a whole and Rome in particular, don't eat much for breakfast—that most people tend to make do with coffee, roll, and juice for a modest beginning to the day. I have certainly found this to be true in my Italian travels. So what explains the spate of well-regarded and reviewed Italian restaurants serving amazing breakfasts? I first encountered this when Morandi opened. Then-chef Jody Williams came up with an insanely delicious breakfast menu. Andrew Carmellini and Karen DeMasco then upped the Italian breakfast ante at Locanda Verde (can you say olive oil coffee cake and sheep's milk ricotta?).
Locanda Verde is located in a hotel, the Hotel Greenwich, so it makes a certain amount of sense that they serve breakfast there. (Let's face it, not too many serious New York chefs volunteer to cook three meals a day in their restaurants). Now Nick Anderer and his talented crew at Maialino, another restaurant in a stylish high end New York hotel, the Gramercy Park, have seen the Locanda Verde breakfast and raised the Italian-inspired breakfast stakes yet again. Are they bluffing? After three breakfast visits before I decided to review it, I didn't think so—but to make sure, I've taken it upon myself to sample Maialino's entire breakfast menu. How was it?
Insanely, ridiculously good. What I might call mindboggingly delicious.
"The idea behind the breakfast menu was to have a little fun with our own adaptations of classic breakfast dishes by giving them a Roman or Italian accent," Anderer told us. "Baked eggs all'amatriciana and cacio pepe scramble are egg dishes inspired by classic Roman pasta dishes," whereas other dishes take breakfast staples in an Italian direction—"The smoked swordfish is our Italian spin on smoked salmon, bagel and cream cheese." Every dish is both smartly conceived and perfectly realized.
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Let's start with the stunning array of breakfast pastries, baked in-house by Jen Shelbo—a glazed croissant is better than any cornetto I've had in Italy; an olive oil muffin is moist and not at all heavy, with just enough olive-y flavor; and there may not be anything Italian about the citrus scones, but they're just about perfect. Though between this, a toffee-topped brioche, and a pair of lovely little doughnuts, it'd be a tough call.
As many of you know, we do love our breakfast sandwiches at Serious Eats, so to discover three simple but perfect and originally conceived breakfast sandwiches was a serious treat—particularly the roast pork and fried egg on ciabatta, which I've made several return visits for. The mortadella and the egg salad sandwiches are no slouches, either.
Ricotta pancakes have the crispy edges I dream about; hazelnut granola and yogurt is substantially more complicated and delicious than it may sound; and a dish of poached eggs on green peas is simply spring on a plate.
There's a crispy pork terrine and baked eggs with guanciale, soft-scrambled eggs and—perhaps my favorite dish of all—satin-y see-through slices of cold-smoked swordfish, pickled red onion, and robiolina. When served with toasted ciabatta, they form the pitch-perfect Italian version of a signature sandwich that Barney Greengrass would serve if they opened a branch in Rome.
I do love ordering many breakfast side dishes, and Maialino makes the breakfast side dish sojourn worthwhile: respectable potatoes, a supremely juicy pork and Pecorino sausage; and bacon that may be the best house-made stuff in the city.
Anderer and company could have played it safe with traditional Italian breakfast items, but thankfully, they didn't. The breakfast menu at Maialino is thoughtfully conceived, imaginatively executed, and strikingly original. I don't know anything on it could be found on breakfast menus in Italy, but with food this good authenticity isn't the point. Serious deliciousness is. If the Italians want to find out how they could do breakfast in the spirit of their extraordinary culinary traditions, they need look no further than the morning menus at restaurants like Maialino and Locanda Verde.