With all the attention paid to Kevin Cavenaugh's micro restaurant pod, the Ocean, at Northeast 24th Avenue and Glisan Street, it would be easy to assume the concept is more important than what's served there. Well, pish. Drop a meatball in the ocean and you know what? It expands to the size of the ocean.

Despite a prominently displayed 50-EAT-BALLS phone number and a website exhorting visitors to "put our balls in your mouth," Tabla owner Adam Berger's 24th and Meatballs might actually be the class of the complex. 

Two of the shop's biggest successes are subtle, and they have nothing to do with meatballs. 24th and Meatballs boasts a fine winter salad, a $4 plate of fresh kale greens, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and a perfectly attuned sherry vinaigrette. Kale's earthiness can be difficult to tame in salad form, but the salad's mix of acidity and sweet tartness bring it into gentle balance.

Likewise—as might be expected from the owner of Tabla bistro—the polenta is a revelation: creamy, rich and satisfying, with a buttery touch of Julia Child.

As for the balls? The pork piccante are far less interesting—texturally monotone and perhaps underspiced—than the classic Italian's holy trinity of veal, pork and beef. The surprise is the chicken Parmesan. I had dreaded, in anticipation, dry and wadded poultry. What I got was moist and leavened with thyme, a near-perfect comfort food. Go figure: In a world of balls, lightness wins the day.

  1. Order this: Polenta and meatballs, classic with tomato basil or chicken with hazelnut arugula pesto ($8).
  2. Best deal: Chicken meatball slider with creamy cheese ($2.50).
  3. I’ll pass: Pork piccante, but only because others are better.

EAT: 24th and Meatballs, 2341 NE Glisan St., 282-2557, 24thandmeatballs.com. 11 am-11 pm daily. $.