Meatball Quest

So I'm just slightly obsessed with tasting different homemade meatballs. Be they in homes, be they in Italian restaurants or American restaurants or Middle Eastern restaurants or wherever, the obsession is in full force. I don't think I even realized how much I enjoyed trying these delicacies until I noticed how rare it can be to find an especially good one, and how much I love when that happens.

The meatball is a true rock star of Italian and other cuisines. Typically a combination of several high quality ground meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, sausage itself are possibilities). They are bound together and prepared in mysterious and varying ways, such that no two meatball recipes ever yield the exact same meatball. A perfect meatball can be fluffy and savory, crispy and sweet or dense and spicy. Or you can jumble those adjectives up a different way and you'd be right. The perfection comes from that feeling deep down you get when the meatball has IT. Too dry, bad spice combo, too greasy or not held together well and the meatball can quite easily flop.

To taste a meatball I really don't need to bother with a whole plate of spaghetti with it. That is nice, but often I'd rather just try the meatball as a little appetizer or tasting or tapas. Maybe just one or two meatballs too, depending on the size. Of course a little sauce and maybe a little cheese is needed, depending on the cuisine. And I don't look for anything but that “ooh” and “aah” factor that the meat and the spices and the consistency and the heat and the warmth and the sauce and the oil and the texture and the love bestow upon my tongue. Nothing more. But that's asking a lot. They aren't always easy to find.

This weekend I was lucky though. At one of my favorite restaurants, Chef Geoff's Downtown in Washington DC, with Julia and my parents, not only did they have homemade meatballs, but they had a small taste portion (and rightly with sauce but not pasta). Of course I ordered this tasting and I was surprised to receive a little plate with as many as eight or ten little meatballs covered with a thin layer of tomato sauce and Grana Padano. I was certainly more suspicious than usual, as I was sharing the table with one of the great meatball makers, my very own Mom. She makes one of the lightest, fluffiest, most delicate, yet extremely tasty Italian meatballs that I've ever encountered. So that example tends to be my personal standard bearer. To their credit though, Chef Geoff's makes a mean meatball as well, though quite different. These meatballs are small and a little denser than most. But they were incredibly tender and moist still and brimming with flavor and a nice spicy kick. The sauce and cheese just added to the overwhelming savory gush that each bite entailed and I found my self savoring and gobbling simultaneously. These were quite worthy. And my Mom, after a couple enthusiastic tastes, agreed.

I'll continue to be on the lookout for awesome homemade meatballs and fill in from time to time on the most noteworthy and taste-worthy.


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