The flurry of pomp and circumstance on my Facebook feed has come to an end after a month-long stream of beaming parents and graduates in cap and gown. Four years ago, when our eldest graduated from high school, I never dreamed that the ensuing four years would pass so quickly. I also never imagined how moved I would be when these same faces from our daughter’s high school class started popping up on my newsfeed from college commencements near and far.
Walking into the theater in New York City where The Daughter and her classmates would cross the stage for their diplomas, I suddenly felt a huge lump in my throat and wondered why I hadn’t brought a hanky. Kindergarten was yesterday, right? Where was the shy little girl whose personal heroes were Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid? If the soloist on stage hadn’t started belting out Ariel’s theme song “Part of Your World” (seriously!), I think I could have kept it together. Yet, my teary eyes were nothing but grateful.
After several days of ceremonies and celebratory dinners, we had one last evening in the city and chose Maialino restaurant across from Gramercy Park for a post-graduation dinner with the four of us who were still in town. We had dined at Maialino once before, barely a month earlier, relishing a moment of calm as we anticipated graduation events and extended family converging on the city to join us. It seemed a perfect choice to revisit after all the dust had settled. Besides, we had been craving their parma prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella and their delicate pasta ever since.
Maialino, which means “little pig” in Italian, is accented in checkered tablecloths and dark wood that give it the authentic feel of a classic trattoria. Chef Nick Anderer, who worked under Mario Batali at Babbo before starting Maialino in 2009, says his mom’s passion for cooking was a big influence on his decision to become a chef. Falling in love with the food culture of Rome as a student abroad in college, he says “it’s an obsession I can’t seem to shake.”
The dinner menu contains a motto, “Ci Pensiamo Noi ~ Leave Yourself in Our Hands,” and it’s excellent advice. Our server Moshe was phenomenal with suggestions and very attentive without being intrusive in our dinner. The sommelier service, too, was excellent, a fairly perfect example of what we wish was offered at every restaurant where we dine.
Our Somm stopped by our table right away to offer assistance with our wine choice, not pressing her services on us, but very much making herself available. At some restaurants, it is unfortunately the habit to send the sommelier to your table only upon request or, worse yet, only if it is suspected that you will be buying an expensive bottle. We appreciated that at Maialino the sommelier was as integral and available in helping plan our dinner experience as was our server.
The wine we chose was the 2009 Paolo Bea San Valentino, a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 10% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and 30% Sagrantino di Montefalco. A robust and earthy blend from Umbria, it had a hint of spice, a lot of luscious dark fruit, and ample acidity to make it a wonderful match for our food.
For dinner, we started with the prosciutto and mozzarella that we’d been craving. A simple dish, it’s all about having superior ingredients, and they do. Being Bolognese fans, we ordered the Pappardelle alla Bolognese offered that evening with a pork ragu, tomato and Grana Padano cheese. Our Bolognese aficionado at the table proclaimed it amongst the best in Manhattan, and she has tried enough to know.
My personal favorite was the Malfatti, an addictively delicious dish with wide, hand-torn pieces of egg noodle, braised suckling pig, and arugula. As we ended the meal with the Frozen Lemon Meringue, an exquisite tart of lemon curd gelato in a graham cracker crust topped with toasted meringue, we savored the chance to look back on the flurry of events of the previous days.
Commencements are classic occasions for advice giving, with plentiful encouragement to always show up, never give up, make a difference in the world, be true to yourself, take chances, be willing to make mistakes, and on and on. Yet, all the focus on giving advice about what to do next can cause us to miss the opportunity in front of us. What better chance will we have than milestones like these to simply breathe a sigh of satisfaction at where we’ve arrived, to appreciate all that transpired to create this moment, and to savor it with those whom we cherish most?
So this week we toast to the season’s newest graduates from academia with a wish for all of them, and for all of us who love them, that after the pomp and circumstance is done and before we scurry off to our next destination, we make time with one another for a collective sigh of appreciation. Preferably, with good glass of wine in hand. Cheers!