West 5: Astral Mac & Cheese
When I posted our first Quintessential Mac & Cheese Roundup in 2008, I was certain we would soon run out of restaurants that served Mac & Cheese, and then the idea of a yearly roundup would be a thing of the past. Well, either I was way wrong about the number of restaurants that serve Mac & Cheese or an increasing number of restaurants have recently added the divine macaroni to their menus. Either way, there now seems to be no danger of running out of stellar renditions of this most delicious dish. My ooey-gooey-cheesy cup runneth over!
To get a bit of history on how this whole obsessive exploration came to be and to check out the photos and tasting notes for the first roundup, see the post, Quintessential Mac & Cheese Roundup 2008. Also check out the post, LunaCafe OtherWorldly Mac & Cheese, which features the absolute best, repeatedly tested recipe in the universe. I swear! And if you are really a diehard Mac & Cheese lover, you have to try my World Famous Green Chili Mac & Cheese as well, modeled after a version we tasted at the Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona last winter.
For even more inspiration, check out this year’s top 6 finalists in the Tillamook Macaroni & Cheese Recipe Contest. Thousands of cooks submitted their treasured macaroni and cheese recipes for this year’s contest and then the top contestants competed in the regional cook-offs across six cities. I will once again be a judge at the live Grand Finale cook-off in Portland, Oregon. The event takes place on October 23rd at Kell’s Irish Restaurant. Last year’s winner was Angie Phillips’ Caramelized Sweet Potato, Garlic & Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese.
So, without further ado, here are the most noteworthy results of our 2009 Mac & Cheese adventure, in alphabetical order. The intention, as with last year, is to strike a balance between fancy-schmancy and let’s-eat-already venues.
The cities we hit for this year’s roundup include Seattle, Portland, Scottsdale, and Boston.
23 Hoyt (Portland, Northwest 23rd)
23 Hoyt: Gruyere, Parmesan & Applewood Smoked Bacon Mac & Cheese
This Mac & Cheese is billed as “gruyere, parmesan, bacon, and crunchy topping,” but this is humble understatement. The recipe harkens from the now defunct Olea restaurant, and is perfection with a heady aroma and flavor of applewood smoked bacon.
Aquitaine (Boston, South End)
Aquitaine: Parmesan Mac & Cheese
The presentation here is unextraordinary, but I assure you the taste is anything BUT pedestrian. The sauce is ultra creamy and suggestive of a range of aged cheeses. I asked the server to check with the kitchen to see which cheeses were actually used in the dish, but all that crafty chef would reveal was “parmesan.”
Bandera (Scottsdale, Old Town)
Bandera: Wood-Fired Mac & Cheese
We were headed to the airport after a week of indulgent dining in Scottsdale/Phoenix, but we had not yet tasted the famed Mac & Cheese at Bandera in Old Town. So, like true culinary adventurers, we dashed in and ate fast. The Mac & Cheese is offered as a side but it is well worth singular attention.
BOKA (Seattle, Downtown/Pioneer Square)
Boka: Gruyere, Brie, Parmesan & Bacon Mac & Cheese with Crisped Onion Topping
We recently sampled this baked macaroni with creamy sauce of gruyere, brie, and crisp bacon, topped with parmesan and panko breadcrumbs. Perfection and also beautifully presented.
Café Castagna (Portland, Hawthorne District)
Cafe Castagna: Baked Penne with Gruyere, Cheddar, Green Chile & Egg Yolk
This is what Mac & Cheese must be like in a Parisian café, if such a dish actually exists in Paris. Wonderful! Baked penne with gruyere, cheddar, green chile and raw egg yolk.
Capitol Grille (Seattle, Downtown)
Capitol Grille: Lobster Mac & Cheese
I admit that I was not quite sure why any cook worth their salt would think it necessary to add lobster to Mac & Cheese. But now I get it.The Lobster Mac & Cheese is almost buried under the Sides on the menu in this traditional, high-end steak house. A creamy, luscious, savory, baked Mac & Cheese with al dente campanelle pasta, an abundance of fresh lobster, and a divine sauce of mascarpone, havarti, aged white cheddar, and grana padano. Topped with panko bread crumbs and grated white cheddar. A must try if you are shopping and need a break in downtown Seattle.ClarkLewis (Portland, Northeast)ClarkLewis: Mac & Cheese with Toasted Bread Crumbs
ClarkLewis (Portland, Southeast River District)
ClarkLewis: Mac & Cheese with Toasted Breadcrumbs
We encountered this unpretentious Mac & Cheese on the bar menu at ClarkLewis one cold, rainy Northwest night. The presentation is nothing fancy, but the flavorful medley of creamy cheeses and perfectly cooked macaroni are definitely well-considered and well-crafted.
Crave (Seattle, Capitol Hill)
Crave: Shiitake Mac & Cheese
Sadly, Crave is now closed. Nevertheless, Chef Robin Leventhal deserves applause and appreciation for creating this most memorable, full-flavored Shitake Mac & Cheese, using a trio of cheeses: New York sharp cheddar, creamy fontina, and Parmesan. Plus seashell pasta and loads of succulent shiitake mushrooms. I miss this rich, creamy, delectable dish. The apple garnish was a brilliant touch. For the complete story, see my earlier post, Crave: Shiitake Mac & Cheese.
Heathman (Portland, Downtown)
Heathman: Lush Mac & Cheese
Offered as a happy hour selection, this excellent Mac & Cheese deserves greater importance on the menu of this highly regarded, fine dining establishment. As a bar offering, it’s a steal.
JoBar (Portland, Northwest 23rd)
JoBar: Cheddar, Wild Mushroom, & Beer Mac & Cheese
JoBar makes it into the roundup again this year because they offered a taste-worthy new rendition. It’s so delectable, that I have eaten it several times. Garganelli pasta with cheddar cheese, wild mushrooms, and beer.
Kenny & Zuke’s (Portland, Downtown)
Kenny & Zuke’s: Just a Bowl of Mac & Cheese
It’s hard to order Mac & Cheese in this standout, retro delicatessen, because the house-made pastrami is SPECTACULAR, and I never tire of it. Plus, there is no description of the Mac & Cheese on the menu. Plus it’s only $5.50, which typically indicates the dish is an afterthought. But trust me and order it. It’s not fancy, but on a cold Northwest day or night, it warms the heart and nourishes the soul, just like my German grandmother’s Mac & Cheese always did.
Oba (Portland, Pearl District)
Oba!: Green Chili-White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese
What a lucky find to spot Green Chili-White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese on Oba!’s bar menu. It’s definitely the most unusual and colorful Mac & cheese we encountered this past year.
Roaring Fork (Scottsdale, Old Town)
Roarng Fork: Green Chile Macaroni
Robert McGrath’s Green Chile Macaroni is world famous and deservedly so. If you are in Scottsdale, do make time to visit this rustic tome to cowboy cooking and order this little bit of heaven. (Note, however, that Robert McGrath is no longer head chef at the restaurant.
Google sends a fair share of the folks searching for McGrath’s recipe to LunaCafe, even though the recipe is located here and also in McGrath’s most excellent cookbook, American Western Cooking
But before you shout hallelujah and run off to grab that recipe, I must sadly confide that the recipe does not produce the same Mac & Cheese that you will eat at the Roaring Fork in Scottsdale. I know this because I bought a plane ticket to Scottsdale last year and then ate a good size portion of this masterful, ultra creamy concoction myself. When I got back to Portland, I spent three days in the OtherWorldly Kitchen trying to reproduce this dish. Check out the results in the post titled World Famous Green Chile Mac & Cheese.
Smash (Seattle, Wallingford)
Smash: Black Truffle Mac & Cheese
I do not typically appreciate “stove-top” Mac & Cheese, but I am probably in the minority here. This version is tasty with its inclusion of shaved black truffle, which perfumes every last creamy bite.
SMITH (Seattle, Capitol Hill)
SMITH: Smoked Gouda, Grafton Cheddar & Ham Mac & Cheese
If I lived closer to Seattle’s Capitol Hill, I would likely eat this Mac & Cheese weekly. It’s that good. Elbow macaroni with a creamy sauce of smoked Gouda and Grafton cheddar with ham and a light sprinkling of fine bread crumbs on top. Check out my earlier post: Eat. Seattle. Smith
West Five (Seattle, West Seattle)
West 5: Astral Mac & Cheese
West Five’s Astral Mac & Cheese is quite possibly the best Mac & Cheese in the world, or in any world for that matter. I know, I know. I say that a lot. But truly, this Mac & Cheese is a solid contender for world-class status. Chef, Kelly Maclein, knows her Mac & Cheese! Her creation consists of radiatori pasta and FIVE cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, cotija, parmesan, and cream cheese), all brought together in a sauce so ooey, gooey, creamy, rich, and delicious that you may find yourself moaning as you are eating each bite. You’ve been warned. For the complete story, check out my earlier post, West 5: Astral Mac & Cheese.
You can follow our continuing Mac & Cheese posts on the Mac & Cheese page.
For easy reference, here are the standouts from the Quintessential Mac & Cheese 2008 Roundup:
Quintessential Mac & Cheese Roundup 2008
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Seattle, Pike Place Market)
Café Venus (Seattle, Eastlake)
Fratelli(Portland, Pearl District)
Heathman (Portland, Downtown)
JoBar(Portland, Northwest District)
Noble Rot (Portland, Laurelhurst)
Olea (Portland, Pearl District, now closed)
Pastini Pastaria (Portland, Northwest District)
Serratto (Portland, Northwest District)
Stephanie’s (Boston, Newberry St.)
Veil (Seattle, East Lower Queen Anne, now closed)