Not sure if it's dÃƒÂ©jÃƒÂ vu, or a recurring nightmare - but here I am on Roncesvalles once again, to review yet another restaurant. Unfortunately this time I may have wished I hadn't bothered. If you make the trek, or live nearby, you'd be far better off heading on over to the neighbouring Keriwa or Local Kitchen and Wine Bar instead of Maialino Enoteca Italiana.
With a whimsical name meaning "cute little pig", the room here is chic and sharp with a rustic cosiness so it's sure draw
them in ... at least for now. Whether they accept reservations at this point is still unclear. After two phone calls to inquire about making a reservation, we're told they don't accept them. Yet upon arrival we're asked what name the reservation is under. Uhhmmm, yeah, whatever.
But this cluelessness doesn't compare to our server, who I'm not even sure knows the name of the restaurant she's been working at for more than a month. To wit, Question: "Excuse me, what's in this sauce?" Answer: "It has mint, cinnamon and something." All night long we heard and/or overheard comments like, "I'll have to check," "Hmm, I'm not sure, I'll find out." I mean, really, she even had trouble directing us to the washroom.
But faults are forgivable with someone so friendly, and good food can more than make up for a woeful lack of staff training. Alas, from a menu that boasts many sharesies, little wowed us beyond an exceptional home-made wild boar sausage starter that every one gets for free accompanied by crostini and an old family recipe of black olives. We even noticed complimentary Proseco going around. Was this make-good for other snafus we are unaware of or are they just being hugely generous in their early days?
Next to appear are the uninspired 2010s version of bruschetta: arancini ($7). Listed as "authentic rice cones," what arrives is a single pear-shaped rice ball. According to the menu, this beautifully presented but bland little blob is apparently stuffed with chicken and veal "ragu," green peas and scamorza. Really? In theory, perhaps - unless I've gone blind and my taste buds have suddenly vaporized. Sigh. But we remain hopeful. And wha-a-a-t, did I read that right? A spleen sandwich? C'mon, you gotta give them credit for originality. This pane "ca meuse" ($6) boasts a fantastic Sicilian bread filled with sautÃƒÂ©ed slices of veal spleen and cacio cavallo cheese, but the texture is so dry and chalky it's as appetizing as downing a glass of barium sulphate before a colonoscopy. What follows next is a parmigiana in vetro ($7), which right about now sounds a bit too risquÃƒÂ©. But we persevere. Again, it presents beautifully, but not the least bit tasty. Think of it as deconstructed eggplant parmesan--minus the old-school charm or flavour. A parmiagiano mousse, roasted eggplant puree and tomato sauce is an unadulterated failure, and mostly because it's too cold. Had this been served at room temp it could have been resuscitated. Even my beloved "porchetta" ($8) - for which I will gladly burn in Jewish Hell-doesn't quite cut it here; its dryness barely saved by nicely executed peppers and caramelize onions.
How defeated this kitchen will be after reading this review. But there is a silver lining: beef tongue ($9) like you've never had it before. Not the way mom used to make it, between challah and French's mustard to mask its sponge-tough texture. Instead, here it's slow-cooked, silky and so thinly sliced you might mistake it for top notch roast beef on fennel-flavoured bread. The only thing missing is a jus or grainy mustard that would work wonders.
It perplexes that chef Roberto Marotta can get tongues wagging, teasing us with such a spectacular dish only to fall off the tracks right after with a faltering fettuccine cinghiale and tartufo ($19). Boasting wild boar ragu and shaved truffles from Italy, the homemade pasta is perfect. But this ain't no ragu. As for the truffles...pretty sure they are the Chinese "zirconium" variety.
Costole di manzo al nero d'avolo ($23) is also pretty tough, though these beef ribs are augmented with some mighty tasty creamy potatoes, roasted shallots (skin on) and a joyous jus. Another fluke or does Marotta have some real talent after all? It's hard to tell as we finish off with an especially flavourless panna cotta ($7).
As it stands, pretty Maialino is just a pig wearing lipstick. And right now, it's not fooling anyone.