There’s a lot you can say about Maialino Mare. It’s gorgeous, with it’s stark black and white walls, floor to ceiling windows and gratuitous use of warm wood. It brings a fine dining space to a neighborhood that is swiftly becoming one of the more interesting places to eat in D.C. It’s Danny Meyer’s (of Union Square Hospitality Group) first sit down restaurant in the District, which brings a lot of cachet with it. It’s a restaurant designed to not accept tips, a rule that has drawn ire and praise from critics. Its menu has quirks, but is largely traditional.
Besides its unusual tipping policy, Maialino Mare isn’t really bringing anything new to D.C., but it has done something very right. Maialino Mare is one of the perfect examples of what restaurateurs should do when they expand their successful restaurant empires into D.C. Instead of duplicating Maialino in New York, Meyer and his team adapted it for the neighborhood, focusing on seafood while a stone’s throw away from the Anacostia in Navy Yard. This isn’t a copy cat cash grab, it’s thoughtful.
In fact, thoughtful describes the entirety of the restaurant, from the design to the service to the menu. Meyer’s restaurants are known for their excellent service and Maialino Mare is no different. Order a bunch of items for the table and things come arranged just so, dishes are whisked away the second they’re not needed and everyone is so goddamn charming.
That includes Executive Chef Rose Noel, whose menu is filled with a mixture of crowd pleasers and dishes that could be challenging (depending on the diner). If you can convince your table to spring for the highly recommended testarella, which is a very casually plated pigs head on a bed of arugula, you’re in for a great night. Both Noel and our server reminded us to dig deep into the cheeks, eyes and ears of the crispy suckling pig, and we did not regret it.
Since we’re on the subject of things you won’t forget, we might as well talk about pasta. D.C. is jam packed with excellent pasta options, you have to really show off your chops here if you want to play ball with Red Hen, Sfoglina, Lupo Verde and the Centrolina (among many other options). While Maialino doesn’t necessarily blow away any of those tried and true options, it’s another solid option to add to your list. We loved the spicy and rich Bucatini all’Amatriciana, but we also enjoyed the (unfortunately seasonal) Bombolotti al Orto, which featured a winter green pesto, and was bitter and refreshing like the first snow day of the year. Pair a good pasta up with a good amaro spritz (or a negroni) and you have yourself a meal.
But actually, you don’t have yourself a meal. Don’t even think of leaving your table at Maialino Mare before diving headfirst into the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. A hearty chunk of cream and espresso soaked cookies that has been carpeted with chocolate shavings, it’s sweet and rich and absolutely perfect.
If only all of D.C.’s New York imports tasted and looked this good.