Does size matter with NYC Lower East Side restaurant food?

by Sarah Spigelman on March 17, 2011

The Meatball Shop's Spicy Pork Ball

The Meatball Shop's Spicy Pork Ball

People have always had debates about what is just BETTER in a given issue.

Up versus down.

Left versus right.

ESPN vs. Bravo…well, that’s a no brainer. Bravo OBVIOUSLY wins.

But a big issue for foodies is big versus small.  A huge yeast doughnut, or a diminutive doughnut hole? A meatball the size of your head or one only as big as a toddler’s fist?

That is the issue at hand.

ROUND 1: Doughnuts

Doughnut Plant’s Tres Leches Doughnut vs. Momofuku Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake Truffles (both located near the Hotel on Rivington New York City).

LOOK: The tres leches doughnut looks like a creation straight out of This is Why You’re Huge. Gigantic, square shaped, with icing spilling messily over all of the sides, making fingers goopy. Perfectly golden. The truffle, on the other hand, was out of Martha Stewart’s dreams. Perfect ping pong balls, with a muliti-colored rainbow of sprinkles dotting its muted brown surface.

SCENT: Tres leches smelled of coconut, cream, fat, tropical breezes and food comas. Truffle ball smelled of vanilla, sugar, cosmopolitans and dancing till 3 a.m.

TEXTURE: Tres leches was pliant, fluffy and soft. Truffle ball was denser, with a tight crumb and a slightly gummy (though not at ALL unpleasant) consistency when rolled around in the mouth.

TASTE: Tres leches was the pure essence of coconut and cream. Rich, fragrant, clean — and although it was sweet, that was not the dominant flavor. Rather, the dominant flavor was the coconut. Even the icing was not too sweet, which would have led this incredibly decadent cake into saccharine land. It was perfection. The truffle was also fantastic, but this time, sugar was king. It tasted of sweetness, of vanilla, and — truly — of a dream birthday cake that you might have. It was less complex but no less delicious. However…it really did leave me wanting a bit more. There were three small balls in the serving, but a fourth may have put it into the lead.

WINNER: DOUGHNUT PLANT

ROUND 2: Meatballs

Max’s Polpettone vs. The Meatball Shop’s Spicy Pork Ball (out-of-town guests can stay at the Cooper Square Hotel New York City, near both restaurants).

LOOK: Max’s Polpettone easily weighs as much as a small baby.  After all, an entire hard-boiled egg is encased inside. It arrives like a beautiful, beefy football, dressed in a vibrant pool of smooth marinara sauce. The Meatball Shop’s ball is the size of a lime. Compact in size, it comes plain, with pasta or — as I prefer — sandwiched between the top and bottom layers of a golden brioche bun.

SCENT: Max’s meatball smells hearty — that is really the only word for it. It gives off a deep, beefy aroma that intermingles with the oregano-tomato-sweet basil scent of the marinara sauce. The Meatball Shop’s pork meatball, on the other hand, smells more complicated. It has the naturally sweet scent of pork mixed with licorice-y fennel and the nasal-clearing aroma of red pepper flakes.

TEXTURE: Max’s meatball is dense and substantial. When you cut through it, it resists your knife just enough so that you know you are really getting a LOT of beef for your buck. When it reaches the middle, it gently collapses into the oozy mozzarella cheese and hardboiled egg. The Meatball Shop’s ball is lighter and bouncier beneath its squashy top bun. It is exceedingly moist, almost melts in your mouth, and is held together with, seemingly, just a wish and a prayer. It feels as light as Max’s ball feels heavy.

TASTE: Max’s meatball is a hearty, traditional, American-Italian meatball. Substantial, beefy, filled with the creamy egg, oozy mozzarella cheese and salty ham. The lightly acidic and quite zesty tomato sauce added facets of flavor to the meatball, but it was still an extremely beefy affair. It is also a little dry for my taste. The pork meatball was a positive explosion of flavors. Creamy pork, sweet fennel, spicy red pepper flakes and nutty Parmesan all crashed together on my palate in an eye-opening and welcome taste bud invasion. It is both familiar and entirely new, and something that I can eat again and again without getting bored. Though you can get a slew of different sauces for it, this ball is ballsy enough to enjoy on its own.

WINNER: THE MEATBALL SHOP

Unfortunately…there is no clear winner in this issue! So, when it comes down to it…size doesn’t matter.

Who would have believed it?

- Sarah Spigelman of Fritos and Foie Gras and NearSay

[Photo Credit: Sarah Spigelman]

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