Earlier this week, the finishing touches were being applied to Danny Meyers new restaurant, which will likely open next week for dinner (exact date tbd). Amid the background noise of power drills and stern tutorials on the finer points of napkin-folding, the kitchen crew fastidiously practiced shaping malfatti (which means, ironically, badly made) and corralled egg yolks into precise circles of ricotta-potato filling destined to become ravioli. In only three months, a possible record in restaurant gut renovation, Meyer (with a restrained assist from David Rockwell) has transformed the Gramercy Park Hotels darkly moody Wakiya space into a sun-splashed ode to Rome, with floor tiles inspired by the Pantheon, ceiling beams salvaged from a New Jersey barn, and marble-topped counters soon to be laden with salumi, cheese, and dolci.
The idea behind the project Meyers first full-fledged Italian joint, not counting MoMAs Cafe 2 commissary is to serve not only as destination restaurant, but as checked-tablecloth-clad neighborhood canteen, a place to drop by for morning coffee and orange-scented olive-oil cake or an afternoon tramezzino and quartino of wine, dispensed from a sixteen-spigot enomatic system at the standing bar. That bar, by the way, occupies the front of the restaurant, a walk-in space officially designated Bar Maialino, which is equipped with high tables, woven-leather-backed tall stools, and its own snacky menu, which will eventually be served all day.
The first phase, though, is dinner, which will take the traditional Italian form of an à la carte menu of antipasti, primi, secondi, and contorni. The Roman trattoria model is the inspiration but not the rule, which means that though chef Nick Anderer will cover the culinary bases with housemade pastas like tonarelli cacio e pepe and paccheri alla gricia, and the traditional oxtail stew, coda alla vaccinara, hell still make full seasonal use of the nearby Greenmarket and source his eponymous maialini, or whole pigs, and other proteins from purveyors like Four Story Hill Farm and EcoFriendly Foods.
Cheese and wine will be strictly Italian (the latter under the enthusiastic direction of sommelier Stephen Mancini, who launched an Italian-cocktail program at Union Square Cafe), but salumi will include top-notch domestics (La Quercia organic prosciutto the Kobe beef of prosciutto, says Anderer plus housemade coppa Romana). And for dessert, Gramercy Tavern alum Jennifer Shelbo has been tweaking torta della nonna, as well as the distinctly ItaloNew York hybrid, Concord-grape gelato. It reminds me of Bubblicious, she says, but in a good way!
Maialino, 2 Lexington Ave., at 21st St.