You know this to be true: there can be too much of a good thing. But like most people, the Accidental Locavore occasionally needs to be hit over the head to drive this point home. Such was the case at the Wine & Food Festival's Meatball Madness event, essentially an all-you-can-eat frenzy of spherical food. Just imagine, in various kitchens around Manhattan, chefs (or more likely the commis) spending countless hours rolling out balls of ground meat, prepping sauces and condiments and rolling it all to a huge event space in SoHo. Then add ridiculously tall, skinny, black-clad models with trays of Pellegrino, the roster of Food Network "stars" and hordes of hungry-for-meatballs New Yorkers along with the requisite decibel-shattering music (after all, why talk when you can text?). I was a guest of LG, one of the sponsors, with whom I had earlier done a demo for their new refrigerators.
Surely you would think the lesson about eating too much from a single food source was learned from multiple trips to the Chocolate Show or, more recently, the Cheesemakers Festival, but no! Armed with a fork, napkin and a petite bottle of Pellegrino with a straw (quickly swapped for a similarly petite bottle of Prosecco), I started to work the room. First stop, The Meatball Shop, where the guys, wearing "eat my balls" t-shirts, were kind enough to point out the folly of my own apparel, a white t-shirt... oops. At least I had an orange jacket over it, in case of accidents.* Their offering got the night off to a good start, spicy pork meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce. Not too hot, just a nice kick with a tender, flavorful meatball.
Because you don't really need a ball-by-ball account, let me just cover some of the more interesting hits and misses. Most disappointing? The trendy Il Buco Alimentari's lamb and ricotta meatball. Very dense (read tough) and not worth the effort. Since I just made some lamb meatballs (recipe coming soon), I'm wondering if lamb is just leaner than pork or beef or it just needs more egg, milk or bread, to give it moisture. Sirio Ristorante's fried meatballs also suffered from toughness and too much breadcrumb filler.
On a higher note, after a week of discussions as to why there are no good places to eat around Madison Square Garden, Lugo Caffè impressed with their fois gras cappuccino (yum!) and a great classic Italian meatball. Kristina was great and I'm looking forward to checking out the restaurant.
My "neighbor," Loi Restaurant, and its enthusiastic owner, Maria Loi, had a delicious Yemisto, or stuffed meatball. If it was lamb, it was definitely lamb done the right way! And Maria promised me that if I voted for her, I'd get a treat when I'm at the restaurant. So in the spirit of eating local, I did!
My absolute favorite of the evening? An unassuming-looking meatball bursting with so much flavor that I think I did a double-take! It was made with pork belly and pesto from Corsino Cantina down in the village. The chef, Tomas Curi, laughed when he saw the look on my face, yes, it was that good! We chatted for a few minutes and I told him I'd eaten there this summer with some friends and was prepared to hate it (noisy, no seating until the whole party is there, no space at the bar, no space to wait... ) but the food was so good, we all left smiling and happy!
Figuring, I would leave on a high note (and being just on the brink of never wanting another meatball), I thanked all my new buddies at LG, grabbed a couple of truffles from Godiva (still spherical) and headed off into the night.
*which amazingly, never happened.