The humble meatball is all the rage right now. In December, Bon Appétit put meatballs on its cover and proclaimed them the year’s top dish. Chefs around the country are reinventing the meatball, using upscale ingredients such as duck and foie gras. Sacramento isn’t immune to the meatball madness. At Ella, little meatballs are roasted in a wood oven and served with roasted tomato sauce and sheep’s milk ricotta. L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen dishes up organic beef and pork meatballs with a harissa tomato sauce. Aioli Bodega Espanola does tapas-style meatballs called albondigas todo ajo. Biba makes an Italian version with veal mortadella and parmigiano, slowly braised with sausage, wine and tomatoes. And at his Davis wine bar Tucos, Pru Mendez serves lamb meatballs in a garlicky, citrusy Cuban mojo sauce. “I can’t tell you if it’s a trend,” says Mendez, who’s had them on the menu for four years. “But they are very popular.”
Why meatballs? And why now? Maybe it’s the recession. Comfort food always goes down well when times are tough. Or maybe they’re appealing because they’re fun. On the 1990s sit-com Third Rock From the Sun, John Lithgow played an alien who comes to Earth and tries to pass for human. In one episode, he learns about meatballs, which he finds weirdly delightful. “They’re balls. Made of meat,” he marvels. Exactly.