Washingtonians, rejoice: Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), founded by pioneering restaurateur and CEO Danny Meyer, has made its fine-dining debut in D.C. Maialino Mare—the seafood-focused sister to New York City’s beloved Roman trattoria, Maialino, which anchors the Gramercy Park Hotel—marks the revered restaurant group’s first foray into full-service dining in the nation’s capital. The highly-anticipated restaurant occupies the ground floor of the new 225-room Thompson Washington D.C. hotel in the Navy Yard neighborhood.
After nearly a decade of regularly visiting D.C., Meyer has gotten to know the market as a consumer—he has several Shake Shacks in the area, as well as a Blue Smoke outpost at Nationals Park—and has keenly observed the culinary scene getting more creative and dynamic, especially over the past few years. “I can’t keep up with how many restaurants I want to go to in D.C. now. And it makes you excited to join that community; it’s a privilege,” Meyer shares.
Already familiar with Navy Yard through his deal with the Nationals, Meyer also trusts in Thompson’s track record of scouting successful locations. “I’ve always loved to make bets on emerging neighborhoods—going all the way back to Union Square Cafe. And what’s happening here is absolutely breathtaking,” Meyer says about the dramatically-changing area.
At Maialino Mare, executive chef Rose Noel (who has been with USHG since 2014; first at Maialino, followed by Manhatta) helms the kitchen, bringing forth a menu showcasing Roman cuisine and seasonally-focused ingredients. “Cooking simple, good food using flavorful ingredients is really fulfilling to me,” shares Noel, adding that she is “ecstatic to be in D.C.”
While diners can expect familiarity from a handful of signature Maialino pastas—like bucatini all’Amatriciana and malfatti with braised suckling pig and arugula—the offshoot isn’t an exact replica of the Manhattan original. The main difference is the strong emphasis on seafood pastas and fish (‘mare’ means ‘sea’ in Italian); the goal was to further explore Roman cuisine in a fresh way for the market.
Notable additions include fettuccine with ruby red shrimp, butter and Pecorino—chef Noel’s personal favorite—and secondi such as skate wing Milanese, and swordfish with mushrooms, capers and white wine.
Meyer likens the distinction to when your favorite band plays a concert. “We want to give you enough of the hits you came to hear, but also felt like challenging ourselves to write a few new songs to go with it,” he shared. “After all these years, this is the only full-service restaurant we have outside of New York City—and we want to get it right.”
Perfecting the model has truly been a team effort. Top talent and leaders from USHG in New York—including Joe Tarasco (chef-turned-director of operations at several restaurants) and John Ragan (wine director and Master Sommelier)—have been working closely with the team in D.C. to help deliver the most exceptional experience possible.
And while the menu is mostly complete, some items are still being tweaked—like sheep’s milk ricotta-filled raviolini with lemon, olive oil and a generous shaving of bottarga, which will be featured “when it’s D.C.-ready,” discloses Meyer.
A selection of rustic dolci round out the offerings, complemented by a robust list of Italian wines and Champagne—with an emphasis on sustainability. “Nearly all of our producers grow and make their wines organically, some bio-dynamically,” shares David Metz, director of wine and beverage.
As with other USHG establishments, the restaurant comes with a “hospitality-included” model of service. Selections from the menu are available for in-room dining, and the team will also operate the hotel’s rooftop bar, Anchovy Social—opening later this month.
“One of the greatest things about restaurants is that they become placemakers for a community,” shares Meyer. This especially rings true in a city like Washington, which can seem so divided because of politics. “I love having a place that brings people together, I love serving good food. It’s hard to sustain an argument when you’ve got a great bite of pasta in your mouth.” You can’t argue with that!
So does this signal the beginning of a USHG restaurant empire in D.C.? Only time will tell. For now, the team is focused on making Maialino Mare the best it can be, and looks forward to serving—and being part of—the burgeoning community.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
Maialino Mare is located at 221 Tingey Street SE in the Thompson Washington D.C., and is open for dinner from Sunday to Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. A coffee and pastry to-go station is available each morning (with full breakfast and brunch to come soon) and lunch kicks off this week with a special Restaurant Week menu (January 13-19; 12-2pm); full lunch hours begin later this month.
Photos courtesy of Union Square Hospitality Group.