The lowly meatball, once content to park itself atop a tangle of sauced spaghetti, continues to roll merrily along at the front of the trend parade. Just this week, a new restaurant opens in Denver, Zeno’s Meatball Kitchen, with eight types of meatballs including beef fajitas meatballs called “Cojones,” “Blue Balls” with blue cheese and bacon, “Great Balls of Fire” made with chorizo and ranch slaw, and “Fowl Balls,” no explanation required.
But I’m happy to report that two of the best versions I’ve tasted in the last year are right here at home in San Diego.
At The Fishery in Pacific Beach, chef Paul Arias hits the jackpot with his Spaghetti with Swordfish Meatballs (above). Cubes of impeccably fresh fish are loosely mixed with oregano, basil, garlic and parmesan cheese, with a bit of beaten egg and breadcrumbs to hold it all together. After a turn in a hot sauté pan, this hefty meatball has delicious little bits of char that contrast with the moist insides.
Arias then stews the meatballs in a savory tomato sauce, adds them to hot spaghetti, and dusts the winning concoction with basil, roasted cherry tomatoes, grated lemon zest and toasted breadcrumbs. The aromas, tastes and textures add up to quintessential comfort food.
The Fishery, which opened its doors as a seafood restaurant-wholesaler in 1997, is well known and admired for the quality of its fish, and its progressive efforts to support healthy marine life and sustain local economies. That means, you won’t get a better piece of swordfish anywhere. And, you’ll only get Swordfish Meatballs at The Fishery when it’s the right season to fish the big whoppers.
It also means that Chef Arias has access to parts of the swordfish --- like the belly he uses for the meatballs --- that we mere mortals can’t buy. So, while I fully intend to experiment in my own kitchen with this yummy new discovery, I also plan to order my new fave at the restaurant every chance I get.
There are lots of reasons to visit Brooklyn Girl Eatery, Mike and Victoria McGeath’s newest restaurant, in Mission Hills -- the luscious Chocolate Bourbon Bread Pudding and the juicy Williams Burger with blue cheese and cherry wood bacon among them. But it’s the Bacon Wrapped Vietnamese Meatballs that drove me mad last fall, and keep driving me back to the restaurant again and again.
A combination of freshly ground shrimp and pork, the balls are smartly seasoned, light and airy. Each chunky orb is wrapped in a crackly bacon blanket and glossed with a lip-smacking sweet ginger glaze. A trio is tucked into an artsy dish and topped with a vivid “Tiger Slaw” that seemed to me to involve cabbage, bell pepper, onion, carrot, celery leaves and ginger.
Listed in the “Street Starts” section of the menu, the Vietnamese Meatballs are designed to be shared as an appetizer. But, I’m warning you upfront: You want to be the pushiest person at your table, with the quickest fork, because everybody goes crazy over them.
They also go crazy over the whole Brooklyn Girl scene. The place is great looking, open and airy, with big-city style and a happy, high-energy crowd. The vast space is divided into a curvaceous bar area with creative lighting and assorted seating arrangements; an inviting dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows and dominant art on the walls; and a sunny corner café where you can watch bakers and cooks doing their thing. (Brooklyn Girl is open for brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night dining.)
Oh yes, the menu has plenty of delicious ways to continue after the meatballs, too, including a nice butter lettuce and bacon salad with fried capers; a crisp roasted duck with ginger and honey; and excellent pizzas from a wood-burning oven.