10/12/2012 09:27:00 AM

Meatball Madness: L'Apicio Surprise Winner, Donatella Is Most Popular

L'Apicio's Gabe Thompson collects his trophy
"Are you ready to hurl yet?," asked chef Franklin Becker as we waited in line for yet another meatball at the New York City Wine and Food Festival's kickoff event. Well, we were feeling pretty gross from eating meaty bites from restaurants like Pulino's, Il Buco Alimentari and Cafe Storico, but we could surely find room for one more.

And so could the crowd. The event space in SoHo was packed as tightly as one of the namesake edibles -  Giada De Laurentiis remarked that it was easily the most well-attended cook off since the launch of the annual shindig. As the official "host" of the event, she played roost in the back corner of the space, pausing from photo ops to let a makeup artist touch up her lip gloss. The crowd liked her meatballs, but they seemed more impressed  with her figure - a tipsy fellow next to us confirmed to his friend that she was indeed "bangin'" in person.

The only other table with similar crowds was last year's winner The Meatball Shop, which dished out bawdy puns along with their balls. They seemed intent on winning the popularity contest, cheering when someone dropped a poker chip into the ballot box. We saw a potential voter lean over and kiss resident dreamboat/J Crew model Michael Chernow right on the lips. The crowd roared and cameras flashed. If only actual politics were this interesting.

Though they seemed a lock for the popularity award, it was Donatella Arpia who was called to the stage as the winner, admitting that she hoped to take Meatball Shop down. She too seemed taken with the svelte Giada, remarking that she might not look quite as trim, but reminding the crowd that she gave birth to "her own little meatball this year." Awwwww.

The crowd grew hushed for the announcement of the Judge's Choice winner. When Pat LaFrieda announced "L'Apicio" - there was a collective "huh?" while everyone figured out it was that place from the Dell'Anima guys that's not even open yet. Though it's surely a major boon for the restaurant to clinch this title, chef Gabe Thompson seemed a little stunned. He gave the shortest acceptance speech in Meatball Madness history before rushing off the stage: "Tonight started off as a shitshow. This was fun. I'm gonna go."

As the crowd slogged down the stairs onto the street, one female clutched her companion's arm, held her stomach and sighed "I never want to see a meatball again." Truth. At least until that L'Apicio place opens in a few weeks...

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