Many of my Italian friends who travel to New York City ask me, “Where can we find the place with the most authentic Italian food?” Or they ask, “Where can we go to find the most authentic Italian wines?” I understand that they not only want to experience New York City but that they are curious to experience the Italian culture here.
It is not so easy to recommend the most authentic Italian restaurant. Because which part of Italy are you referring to? Rome? Florence? Sicily? Okay, let’s say, for argument sake, that we are looking for the best restaurant and wine bar that is authentic to Rome. Well, there is nothing more authentic than being in Rome itself.
But I do like to tell people where to go to get the best experience of Italy as seen through a passionate New Yorker’s eyes – and the top place that would come to mind would be Maialino, which serves “Roman-Italian soul food”. It is a Danny Meyer restaurant, a man who is considered, hands down, one of New York City’s greatest restaurateurs. He helped to define a “New York” style of service in the mid-80s which is warm and fun while still being professional. Until that time, service in New York was based on the French model of serving the guest without letting them know you are there. Danny Meyer was the innovator who realized that American people wanted a more casual feeling – like they were at home, but a much nicer version.
Even though Danny Meyer came from a Jewish background and was raised in St. Louis, he had a background with Italy. He worked for his father as a tour guide in Rome while in college. His love for Roman, as well as Italian food, is best expressed at Maialino. The name of the restaurant is based on a nickname he was given by colleagues while he worked in Rome. He was called Maialino, which means “little pig”, because he would always order suckling pig.
Danny Meyer is a living legend that many other restaurateurs try to emulate. Even though the majority of his restaurants are American fare, the recently opened Marta, a Roman pizzeria being another exception, there is an Italian sense of passion to all of his places. Maialino is a true Italian wine lovers’ paradise, showcasing an extensive Italian wine list that has fair pricing – another thing Danny Meyer is known for – keeping the pricing of wine lists reasonable by New York City standards.
Maialino, and Danny Meyer’s empire in general, is a great example of the New York dream. A young man from St. Louis had a love for food that initially came from his upbringing but was enhanced by his experience in Italy. He is not Italian himself but he understands the Italian heart – all of his past experiences, American and Italian, help to create one of the most successful restaurant groups in the US.
It is just another great example that Italy and New York City make a beautiful marriage.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2014 Carpineto Dogajolo Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy ($11): This is a great value baby “Super Tuscan” that is Sangiovese based. It is medium-bodied with flavors of black berry and coffee. And Tuscany is a place that has inspired many Americans for its beauty and charm.
Special Occasion Wine (from$15 to $50)
2009 Fatascia Almanera Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT, Sicily, Italy ($20): Many of the original Italian immigrants that came to America were from Sicily and so many Americans have Sicilian heritage. This Nero d’Avola is a great example of the richness and warmth that their wines can offer. A big red wine with black cherry, black licorice and lots of spice.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2010 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tucany, Italy ($55): There have been many vintages of a lifetime, but all of the top wine critics have agreed that 2010 is the vintage of a lifetime for Brunello. So this is a great opportunity to buy less expensive wines because the quality is high on every level. Castello Banfi is a great choice and goes perfectly with the theme of this article. This company was started by the Mariani family, which is an American family with Italian roots. They have built an empire themselves by again combining American and Italian sensibilities. With full body yet fine tannins, this monster of a wine actually goes down too easy now, but wait a few more years as it will only get better with time. A lovely complexity of flavors with orange blossom, tar and chocolate.