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May 25, 1999 12:05 AM

jim,calamari meatball?

  • j

what is it?

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  1. For those of you reading along, JG is referring to a dish I had last weekend in an Italian place in Boston's North End (what a GREAT food area, by the way...the very opposite of New York's Little Italy, which is all bad-value, bad cooking, served in a nabe where few Italians actually live). Read about my Boston trip at

    sorry i wasn't more specific about this and other dishes, i was writing quickly (i sure hope people realize that the writing i do on this site is quick and informal; my more serious work appears in books, magazines, and newspapers).
    The meatballs in question were made from ground squid, held together with a binder I wasn't able to identify (I don't believe it was breadcrumbs, FWIW). They were quite smooth (everything finely ground) and tender, and had a subtle flavor that was slightly overwhelmed by the hearty sauce and that unidentifiable binder. Maybe overly compacted, if I want to quibble (a result of the very fine grinding, probably) Not great, but enjoyable.

    I'm surprised you focused on the meatballs, and not my description of the fast-but-good tomato sauce. Italian chefs usually love to talk about the relative merits of fast versus slow sauces (the latter actually isn't always better!

    25 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      hmm, well having tried or read even heard of hundreds of tom. sauces I`m more intrigued with the meatball.the binder was most likly egg white but what gve it it`s body,firmness? bite if not breadcrummb, whitebread soaked in milk? that might work, as for as seasoning, you say it was smooth, so maybe garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper. im going to try to replicate ill let you know how it comes out. thanks

      1. re: jg

        I think the secret to this mystery would be the clue
        that the chef is Vietnamese. I have seen many recipes
        for ground squid cakes, and I just checked a cookbook
        by Nicole Routhier and found a recipe grinding squid,
        seasonings and pork fat in the processor, then forming
        and frying. Check out some Vietnamese cookbooks.

        1. re: Heidi

          Interesting, Heidi, but I kind of doubt it. This guy has built
          some serious walls around his own heritage, there isn't even the faintest
          whiff of vietnamese anything in any of his cooking.

          I'm starting to guess that perhaps ground rice was used for a that possible? Again, it didn't seem bready at ALL...but I could be wrong.

          In any case, Boston's just 3 hours away for anyone who wants to try it, and the North End is just amazing...New Yorkers have no idea. Maybe I'm like the last guy in the world to find out about this nabe, but I'm hooked. The lady in the cannoli shop said that there's no bad food anywhere in the area, and I'm not sure she was hyping...


          1. re: Jim Leff

            oops, one more thing...I'm pretty sure the calamari meatballs predate
            the vietnamese chef. He definitely seemed like a talented
            hired hand rather than management...

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Darn, I was feeling like Super Sleuth, and thinking
              what an inspired way to translate and transcend a dish
              to another culture. I'm SURE there wasn't a trace of
              Nuoc Mam or anything vaguely Vietnamese in the dish,
              but perhaps with a change of seasonings it was
              entirely possible, (but now unlikely), to make it an
              Italian dish.

              1. re: Heidi

                Until someone chimes in with an actual source from the
                italian cuisine, I have to concur with Heidi's idea.
                Fish/seafood ball is a ubiquitous se asian ingredient,
                and its often smooth in texture and bland. It could
                substitute very nicely, without dissonance, for pieces
                of squid, into an italian tomato sauce. Not to
                mention its potential appeal to toothless and fussy
                (tentacles, ugh!) diners or cost-conscious
                restauranteurs! Lets hear more from the italians.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  "Fish/seafood ball is a ubiquitous se asian ingredient, and its often smooth in texture and bland"

                  Hmm...put like that, I'm a little bit more inclined to agree with you and Heidi. Yeah, I wasn't thinking in terms of general Asian "fish ball" for some reason, but that IS kinda what it amounts to, especially considering the compaction and blandness.

                  Also, Allan Evans has (privately) made a good point: Daily Catch (like the other North End places) does NOT cook Italian, it's Italian-American. So in a crazy sort of way, it's almost as esoteric (well, I'm exaggerating a bit, sure) to look for a purely Italian precedent, since this is such a discrete cuisine. We looked in the Mamma Leone's Cookbook (that mainstay of ItalAmer cooking), but couldn't find anything there.

                  I'm going to do some further checking up...look for Boston reviews of Daily Catch on the 'Net, maybe call the restaurant.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    Whew...worked my through the
                    thread and finally saw the
                    reference to The Daily Catch...I ate
                    there on my first trip to Boston
                    many years back and make sure I
                    go if I'm anywhere near (which,
                    unfortunately, isn't very often). A
                    long time Bostonian told me it's
                    been there for years. Had the same
                    squid ink pasta Jim raved about
                    last time.

                    On that first trip, I wandered
                    around alone through the North
                    End for a few hours. Around noon I
                    saw a line of what looked like
                    construction workers outside a
                    basement door. When I got closer,
                    I could see that the ones coming out
                    carried squares of hot pizza, so I
                    got in line. The tiny room had
                    bread racks pushed to the sides,
                    and a simple table held a pan of
                    basic pizza..thin crust, tomato
                    sauce, guy cut the
                    squares, another put the
                    money...fifty cents a a
                    shoe box. It was delicious.

                    The last time I was in Boston, I
                    asked about that spot, and someone
                    pointed me to a pizza place on
                    Hanover (near Daily
                    Catch)...basically the same, but
                    also had suppli del telefono (also
                    called aranciata), balls of cooked
                    arborio rice, rolled in
                    breadcrumbs and fried, with
                    mozzarella or a little meat sauce
                    and peas in the center.

                    For cannoli, try Mike's Pastry...

                    1. re: Jim Leff
                      Paul Desorcy

                      The calamari meatballs have been around long before
                      the Vietnamese chef. The owner (Paul) is considered
                      to be the undisputed calamari king. He is credited
                      with inventing SQUID INK PASTA. I am not sure what
                      the binder is but I will try and find out. On your
                      next trip to Boston try THE CLAM BOX in Ipswich. I
                      did an A-B comparison with WOODMANS a few weeks ago.
                      THE CLAM BOX had a lighter batter and the onion rings
                      were much better. Unfortunately they serve the same
                      frozen yuck french fries. You already found the best
                      Portuguese restraunt in New Bedford. If you do make it
                      back to the North End stay away from Mike's Pastery.
                      Modern is a much beet bet.

                      1. re: Paul Desorcy

                        Awesome message, Paul, thanks for posting! I love the

                        On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Paul didn't invent
                        squid ink pasta. Also, it's a shame that the very
                        clever theory re: the calamari meatball's Asian origins
                        has been shot down...


                  2. re: Heidi

                    It was actually EXTREMELY clever. But you know Ockham's razor...

                    (see also my reply to Jen)

            2. re: jg

              JG, the only non-skanky use of onion powder I've ever heard of was for Memphis-style dry rub barbecue.

              1. re: Jim Leff

                jimmy boy, I would`nt call emerils and prudhommes spice mixtures( which use both onion and garlic powder) skanky unless you mean that in a nice way.also having worked in hundreds of kithchens with thousands of chefs, I have seen many an ingridient used many ways,some I agree with some I dont, but while working at ziggy g`s, an authentic jew deli on sunset blvd. in L.A., opened by a family from ny, they used onion and garlic powder in thier matzoh ball soup along with fresh. so I don`t know you tell me.

                1. re: jg

                  "they used onion and garlic powder in thier matzoh ball soup along with fresh"

                  Ick! Just 'cause real live New York Jews do it doesn't make it right (I bet I could find you Italians in Brooklyn who make lasagna with american cheese). Much 1960's style suburban Jewish-American cooking (your soup sounds typical) is the very definition of skankyness (though serious undiluted old-fashioned Jewish soul food is a wonderful thing). I know, I grew up with a lot of it, and it's a big reason for my having gone nuts over food after I left home!

                  I'll reluctantly concede that certain Cajun seasonings are onion powder exemptions...let's add 'em onto the list with Memphis dry rub. There are surely one or two others I've missed. But it's still an atrocious short-cut ingredient in nearly all applications, IMO.

                  1. re: jg

                    I don't think I would use Ziggy G's as a paradigm of

                    deli food. The place was just dreadful from the

                    moment it opened its doors, and although half of

                    the local music industry seemed to be investors,

                    or at least patrons, of the place, it went lox-belly

                    up within a couple of months.

                    BTW, ``jew deli'' is not a locution that is going to

                    win you many friends around here.

                    1. re: j gold

                      Jonathan: You've made my day, maybe my year!pat

                      1. re: j gold
                        Michele Fuchs

                        I thought perhaps the end of the word was cut-off, or
                        I had hoped.

                        Thanks for taking care of that with aplomb!

                        1. re: j gold

                          I wasnt using ziggy gs as a paradigm of delis, merely stating that they were "real live ny jews" who owned a deli and thats the way they made thier soup. I hope I dont offend anyone further as those are not my words in quotes. BUt if it does get over it, I didnt mean to offend but this overly pc stuff has got to end somewhere. thanks jg the dago

                          1. re: jg

                            "I didnt mean to offend but this overly pc stuff has got to end somewhere"

                            JG, politically correct people are devoted to respecting diversity. But if someone truly respects diversity, they've got to respect your voice...even though (ESPECIALLY though!) it's not mainstream.

                            There's a diff between decrying, say, a television reporter who talks about "Jew food" and a guy in Bay Ridge who naturally--and utterly without venom--happens to talk that way). Personally, I'm glad to have you around, since I built this place to serve as a community for chowhounds of all stripes, not just sensitive Manhattanites. The site could use MORE creative spelling and heartfelt brash opinion.

                            I think it's pretty clear that you weren't intending to offend. I certainly wasn't offended. Onion powder, on the other THAT'S offensive.


                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              well its about time THANK YOU

                              1. re: jg

                                "well its about time THANK YOU"

                                This wasn't intended as a personal endorsement, JG. I'm just calling for a little more tolerance of different types of chowhound voices IN GENERAL.


                  2. re: Jim Leff

                    Jim-glad you finally discorved the north end of boston. Having lived up there/college, 1971-1976, I have been well versed in the north end for quite some time. modern pastry is great, daily catch is great, next time try pomodoro, 319 hanover st, I eat there about 6-7 times a year, its fab, also go to terramia, I think its 98 salem st(parallel to hanover), for fabulous italian. also on hanover is giacomo's. when are ya going back??

                    1. re: stephen kaye

                      "when are ya going back?"

                      maybe tonight? ; )

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        let me know, I'm probably there tues nite 6/1/99

                        1. re: stephen kaye

                          just joking...probably not back for a couple of months. But I'll be dreaming
                          of the North End...