Blog: NYWFF- Meatball Madness
Last night, over 25 chefs from some of Manhattan’s finest culinary institutions gathered inside the exhibition space at 82 Mercer Street as the 2011 Food Network New York Wine and Food Festival officially kicked off with its “San Pellegrino’s Meatball Madness” event. The evening, presented by Buitoni, was hosted for the second year by the Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis, who would make the official announcements for the winners of the Judge’s Choice and the People’s Choice awards, respectively. As for each of the events at the Festival this year, proceeds from the $200 per ticket “Meatball Madness” event would go to benefit the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength- both aimed at curing our city’s hunger woes- by stuffing Manhattan’s elite full of meatballs.
The three hour event felt more like a food rave than a tasting- most of the clientele was finely dressed in suits and professional wear, a dj was subtly standing to the side of the stage, with swarms of crowds gathered around some of the more popular booths, limiting some of the movement between the three massive rooms. But all in all, the event was expertly run, from check in to coat check, to the friendliness of the chefs and staff, to the minimal wait times on most of these lines, which has to be considered a triumph in and of itself with so many famished foodies in attendance.
But alas once the thrill of being in such a chic atmosphere subsided, it was time to begin tasting the meatballs. We jutted right over to “The Meatball Shop” to begin, where chef Daniel Holzman had prepared a ‘steak ‘n cheddar ball on a buttermilk biscuit with mushroom gravy,’ a definitive departure from Italian tradition. But leave it to the meatball experts to create a standout concoction widely lauded by the attendees- so much so that the dish was the winner of the People’s Choice award, the highest recognition of honor amongst the crowd of eaters. Other eccentric takes on meatballs included: host Giada De Laurentiis’ ‘smoked mozzarella and fig meatball,’ a sweet and smoky, almost dessert like creation, “Maialino’s” ‘rabbit meatball,’ served with a pecorino ‘whiz,’ and “Ed’s Lobster Bar’s”’ ‘lobster meatball, topped with Ed’s Caesar salad.’ Some of the better, more traditional style meatballs served included last year’s winner “Donatella’s” ‘tomato braised veal meatballs,’ “Rubirosa Pizzeria and Ristorante,” serving up a beef, pork, and veal variety over a bed of spaghetti, and our favorite traditional- “Catelli’s,” with chef Domenica Catello preparing a huge ‘Meatball with D.C.’s Organic Tomato Sauce.’ The sweet, thick red sauce meshed wonderfully with the bulky, tender meatball just like our Italian grandmother used to make.
Admittedly, after about an hour, many of the dishes began to mesh together, but in weaving in and out of the different rooms, between cliques of people, we compiled our own list of memorable tastes, and highlights of the evening. Fox 5’s Rosanna Scotto was on hand for the “Fresco by Scotto” booth, handing out chef Steve Santoro’s delectable ‘duck and porcini meatballs with Barolo wine and sun dried cherry sauce.’ Thick and brown sauce coated the inventive dish wonderfully here. Tony Liu from “Pulino’s” also prepared a standout ‘meatball with pinenuts currant and basil, over a spicy burnt garlic broccoli rabe,’ securing a Judge’s Choice runner-up award for the second best meatball at Madness. Our personal favorite was crafted by Chefs’ Michael White and Bill Dorrier of “Osteria Morini and the Altamarea Group”- a fantastic ‘prosciutto and mortadella meatball served with Swiss chard and Parmigiano crema.’ Sweet, red sauce. Delicious, tender meat. A savory, creamy cheese finish. Mouthwatering. It should be noted, however that our other favorite, actually wound up winning the coveted Judge’s Choice and would become the reigning 2011 Meatball Madness champion- Chef Joey Campanaro’s (The Little Owl, Market Table) ‘gravy meatball slider served with dandelion and pickled fennel salad.’ Salty and delicious, the slider went down incredibly smooth, and it’s selection as the winner is one that we resoundingly endorse.
“Meatball Madness” was truly an event that embodied gluttony. You’d be hard pressed to find another city that couples hungry eaters with such style and class. So many different delicious places, too many of which to mention, which each place deserves- from “Fedora’s” ‘chicken meatballs,’ to “Ciano” and “The Lion’s” ‘veal meatballs,’ to Sara Jenkins of “Porsena’s” ‘lamb and burger meatball.’ Even our old buddy Chef Josh Capon (Burger and Barrel) was in the house- eating, not working- smiling and chatting it up with friends. In between face-stuffings, “Palm” and “Ruffino” were pouring glasses of beer and wines, “Campari” was mixing up tasty ‘Negronis,’ and Bing had a sponsored full bar for patrons to wash it all down. Coincidentally, the longest line was for the photo booth placed in the center of the floor for memorable keepsakes of the event itself. But we won’t need an item to take home to keep the memory of last night fresh in our mind. And whatever we do forget, the indigestion is certain to remind us of a fun evening, well spent tasting some of New York’s finest flavors straight from the hands of its culinary elite.
- Jane Van Arsdale