Maialino Mare, the first full-service restaurant from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in DC, features a luminous main dining area.
Champions will be hailed in the Navy Yard neighborhood this spring: our beloved Nationals and Danny Meyer. The latter recently opened Maialino Mare on the ground floor of the new Thompson hotel and, like nearby Nats Park in the throes of playoff fever, the proverbial house has been packed every night.
Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, whose hits include New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, opened its first full-service restaurant outside of the Big Apple. Maialino Mare’s cheerful dining room borrows from the Thompson’s nautical aesthetic, with ocean blue booths complementing wood-paneled half-walls and a bar that all feel like the VIP dining hall of a classic ocean liner. Floor-to-ceiling windows also usher in abundant light from the burgeoning Southeast neighborhood.
The Giardini Naxos cocktail with tequila, fennel, blood orange and olive oil
Meyer tapped Brooklyn native Rose Noel to serve as executive chef of the seafood-focused kitchen; she previously worked at two of Meyer’s Manhattan restaurants, Manhatta and Maialino. Most noticeable about Noel’s laudable work? What’s not there: unnecessary fussiness. Her deftness as a chef shows in dishes that focus on the audaciousness of simplicity.
Two pasta dishes already have DC’s gourmands swooning and telling friends. The first is trenette alle vongole, a steaming bowl of dainty littlenecks scattered atop homemade pasta. Noel employs white wine and garlic to tease out the sweetness of the clams and the tenderness of the flat, homemade noodles. Malfatti al maialino (maialino means “little pig” in Italian) will likely become a signature dish here; braised suckling pig meat, lightly seasoned with onions and fennel, hides among the folds of pasta graced with arugula. The kitchen’s other triumph is brodetto, a seafood stew. What makes Noel’s take on this ubiquitous dish so compelling is how each element sings on its own—the minerality of the mussels, the lightly seared chewiness of the octopus, the flakiness of the cod—amid a tangy tomato broth. Simple, yes. But, in the end, all of this simplicity ensures the calculus of one memorable night.