Image: Bombolotti with winter greens pesto.
Last Visit: February 2020
Maialino Mare is an offshoot of Danny Meyer’s Maialino in New York City. Meyer is the insanely successful restaurateur who gave the world Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack. His places are known for very good food and outstanding service. This large spot in Navy Yard is his first full service dining spot in D.C. It serves classic Italian fare that will be sure to please. It also manages to throw in a couple surprises.
The cooking reflects the name and is rooted in Roman dishes that Meyer sampled as a young American abroad. Maialino is a little pig, and there are generally two or three dishes on the menu that feature roast suckling pig, including the appetizer with half a head over greens. The “mare” part is in many of the other dishes, including the whole salt-crusted sea bass served over arugula and stuffed with thyme and lemon. Both dishes will make you work your way around some bones. The dishes are frequently marked by simplicity. The bresaola is uncomplicated with some greens and fried artichokes sprinkled on top, plus some lemon to squeeze. The artichokes fried without batter can also be ordered as its own dish and does Rome proud in there ethereal state. The pastas reflect the middle of the boot. The Bolognese is with tomato sauce that is bright and tangy – not cooked down and rich. The “winter greens” pesto was aggressive on the vegetal flavors over thick rounds of bombolotti pasta. Overall, the food is well-executed, satisfying, but not mind-blowing. That is not a knock, it is probably what they were aiming for.
Desserts are similarly unfussy. The Torta della Nonna is more custardy than typically done, but not too rich. Apple crostata is a classic version with a scoop of gelato. Note that the restaurant serves the hotel, so they also do breakfast and lunch, and brunch on the weekends.
The wine list is Italian, with many interesting finds among the list. Like the food, the prices are not cheap, but they are not bad either.
Meyer brought several people down from New York for the opening and it mostly worked to give the impression of a well-oiled machine and avoid opening kinks. That includes Executive Chef Rose Noel who is running a pretty smooth kitchen. Meyer instituted a service-included model and eliminated tipping in his restaurants. For those who argue it doesn’t work or will lead to a degrading of service, the high level of service he has maintained is a strong retort.
The setting is a grand open space. The tables are done with white tablecloths over blue and white checkered ones, a reminder that there are tricks to keep a room at a mere din of noise. Wood and big windows add some warmth. One other parochial point. It is noteworthy that New York’s most celebrated restaurateur opened a place in D.C. and it is just another good place to dine. We’ve come a long way. Although it should be noted he got a pretty decent D.C. A list crowd for the opening.
Other Guidance: The vibe is nice dinner out. A tie is not out of place, but neither are jeans. GF and vegetarians can do well. There are GF substitute pastas available. Entry is on the ground floor, and the space is part of a large accessible hotel.
Washington Post: Tom falls for the charms.