When it’s noon in San Francisco, it’s 12:30 a.m. the following day in Mumbai, but it’s pretty much always time for meatballs.
You can ponder this chronological curiosity at the Meatball Bar, newly open in the former Shorty Goldstein’s space on Sutter Street downtown, where, like an old-school international airport terminal, a row of analogue clocks gives diners the time in a dozen world cities.
In proper fast-casual style, you choose from any one of eight meats, then one of six sauces, plus five optional sides, making 288 possible permutations (or one for every weekday lunch hour for about a year and a month). The meatballs themselves come four to a $9 order, and they’re generously proportioned — more Jupiter than Pluto. While the lamb had a nice herbaceous note, the pork meatball killed it on texture — and as any nonna will tell you, a meatball is basically a vehicle for the sauce.
In that department, the Meatball Bar should be commended for expanding beyond the Italian-American zone with options like Pineapple BBQ and Korean Gochujang. But while the latter felt like a valiant if slightly wobbly attempt to tuck some heat into an otherwise typical tomato sauce, the spicy meat sauce — yes, that’s its actual name — was thoroughly excellent.
Better still, “sides” like risotto, spaghetti, or braised greens in garlic aren’t relegated to the perimeter of the dish — or, worse, compartmentalized, military-style. They’re placed underneath, so that the sauce fuses with everything. I’ve certainly had cheesier risottos, but it hardly mattered. This $14 lunch became a genuine treat, arriving in minutes and staying hot in spite of being a slow eat. And if this whole operation is insufficiently San Francisco for you, there’s nitro coffee plus specialty kombucha drinks on tap. Can somebody please do something like this to eggplant parm?
The Meatball Bar, 126 Sutter St., 415-757-0884 or meatballbar.com