Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Meatball Cucina open for business
Downtown restaurant replaces Sora with an easy, fun concept and good wines by the glass.
Talk about taking something in the opposite direction! Sora, which wasn’t long for this world, tried an elaborate Japanese-Italian fusion concept that hinged on a grip of eccentricities to tie it all together. Meatball Cucina (655 West Broadway, 619-564-7100) replaced the failed Sora with little more than the eponymous meat orbs to define the concept. The space looks good, with all kinds of swooping accents and cozy tables, but there’s no denying that it looks like somebody hung Edison bulbs in a late-90s-vintage Mario Batali clone to kick the place into 2013.
Meatball Cucina proved that there’s a right way to make a meatball, and a slew of wrong ways. The meatball sampler ($15.95) was an expensive way to try five of the restaurant’s signature items in beef, pork, chicken, veal, turkey, fish, or “classic.” Presentation wasn’t immediately intuitive, but the ‘balls come out on their own plate, while the five accompanying sauces get lined up alongside in little ramekins.
The classic meatballs (beef, pork, and veal combined) were excellent. Flavorful and not overcooked. Everything else was “meh.” There’s no way around the culinary fact that good meatballs require a variety of meats, and “single-origin” meatballs defeat themselves with one-note flavors. Stick with Meatball Cucina’s classic recipe.
An appetizer of shrimp and cannellini beans ($9.95), already thin and uninteresting, had too much sodium chloride for its own good. So, too, did the cubes of foccacia bread doled out in small amounts. Too-salty food is no crushing indictment, since it’s a day-to-day problem, but it belies incautious hands in the kitchen.
Burrata with pesto and cherry tomatoes ($9.95) was better, drawing strength from the primal satisfaction of scooping huge spoonfuls of semi-liquid cheese into one’s mouth.
Lobster ravioli with a tomato mascarpone sauce ($17.95) was good, but not great. The thick, chewy pasta was more satisfying than the elusive flavors of lobster.
Interestingly, Meatball Cucina outdid itself with drinks. The short wine list offered up glass after glass of better than average vino. Prices were just above average for glass wine, but the extra couple dollars yielded superior results. The waiter (who performed brilliantly all evening) suggested a snifter of Averno with ice as a digestive, and what a suggestion. The icy, sweet, herbal bitterness of the cordial cleaned away the richness of salt and cream sauces with ease.
Picking at meatballs and drinking wine was undeniably fun, even if Meatball Cucina’s kitchen lacked polish. If anything, the restaurant could be a great place to hang out with good friends and eat slowly, spending hours working through a series of small plates and enjoying the benefits of those good wines by the glass. Parking validation in the attached garage is a huge benefit, so if the restaurant sticks to their guns and tightens up the meatball service to the point of impeccability, it could ride that gimmick into a happy sunset.