Sometimes going away from a city gives you permission, upon your return, to do things that you wouldn’t normally do when you lived there.
Case in point: eating alone at the bar at Maialino on a Friday night. There are a million reasons I would never have done that as a New York City resident: what if someone I know sees me? What about all the people jammed in there waiting for their tables looking at this guy, alone, reading Salman Rushdie’s article in The New Yorker? Somehow, though, my time away has made me feel like a tourist in the city I once called home…which is how I worked up the courage to walk in and ask for a seat at the bar.
The context was this: Craig was flying in from L.A. so I hadn’t made plans. Around 7 o’clock I found myself near Union Square and realized that his flight didn’t get in until after midnight so I’d have to do something for dinner. I considered Maoz falafel but the environment seemed kind of depressing. I thought about Shake Shack but it was raining-ish.
Then I remembered Maialino, Danny Meyer’s oft-celebrated, tucked-away Italian spot in the Gramercy Park Hotel. I wandered over there and looked through the windows like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters. It was bustling. People were well-dressed. I’d be out of place in sneakers and a backpack.
Then I saw a spot open up at the bar. A very nice spot, actually, with lots of room. So I pounced.
Here’s the thing you need to know about Maialino: if you sit at the bar there’s a bar menu with really wonderful things on it for very cheap. One of those things is a porchetta sandwich for $14. That’s what I ordered along with a glass of red wine recommended by the waiter. Here’s the spread.
The sandwich is a pretty epic affair. It’s served on ginormous bread; it comes topped with gooey cheese, broccoli rabe (which contributes a great deal) and then the real coup de grâce: rendered pork skin that gives everything a salty crunch.
I won’t lie: I ate this quickly so I could get the hell out of there. I kind of hated eating alone at the bar of a fancy restaurant on a Friday night. Maybe I’m not as divorced from my old New York City existence as I thought I was. Or maybe I’m just more self-conscious in my old age. Or maybe I would’ve been better off at a less-crowded restaurant.
Still, the sandwich was wonderful and a great bargain. The staff was very nice and helpful. And it’s great to know, alone or not, that if you’re in that neighborhood and you want a tasty dinner for not a lot of money, you can sit at the bar and do very well. Next time I’m bringing back-up.