This cozy spot on Bleecker is somewhat of a sleeper hit, as far as West Village Italian restaurants go. Unlike I Sodi, for example, you don’t have to reserve months in advance to eat at a normal dinner hour. But that being said, it’s generally always full and smells delicious.
While I enjoy all of their pasta, I only tried their macaroni and cheese recently. As you can see from the photo, it’s a beauty. The menu actually calls it Baker’s Mac and Cheese “Cacio e Pepe,” which is a bit misleading because it tastes like a (very good) regular mac and not overly peppery.
Let’s break it down: I always enjoy a cast iron skillet presentation, especially one that’s topped with breadcrumbs. They also get bonus points for using the rare pipette shape pasta, which is a truly excellent vehicle holding a thick cheese sauce. As for the mac sauce: it was a good balance of creamy and cheesy. There’s enough sharp cheese in there to please those who love a rich flavor, but it’s not overwhelming for those that like a milder sauce (like my toddler!).
Definitely worth a drop by if you’re wandering around the Village.
259 Bleecker St., 212-255-1234
Blossom du Jour is a vegan restaurant that’s not obnoxious about being vegan (rare!). When I need a detox from mac and cheese (also rare!), I love picking up their salad bowls filled with marinated kale, sweet potatoes, and avocado.
The last time I popped in, however, I noticed that they too carry a macaroni and cheese. Obviously, it being a vegan spot, the cheese is made out of cashew and the “bacon” is mushroom-based. If you’ve never had it, it sounds terrible, I know. But, having had previous good luck with vegan mac at By Chloe, I was willing to give it a shot.
Does it taste like regular mac? No. But it’s really tasty, I promise! Mushroom has so much natural umami flavor that when it’s smoked and crisped, it’s delightful. And much in the same way homemade almond milk is truly creamy, a well-executed nut-based cheese is very satisfying. At Blossom, they make theirs in house, which is evident in its quality and freshness. I also appreciate the use of elbow pasta, which is a perennial favorite shape of mine. The dish is finished off with a dusting of breadcrumbs, which doesn’t add much, but it is nice for adding crunch to a stovetop mac.
If you’re interested in exploring cheese alternatives or you have vegan friends, Blossom is definitely worth a stop.
Locations vary, website here
Mexican macaroni and cheese is a thing, guys. One of the most colorful versions can be found at Dos Caminos (locations vary, but we went to the one in Soho). Listed on the menu as “mac ‘n chorizo,” it features wheel-shaped pasta (I don’t think this one has an Italian name), a very mild cheese sauce, crumbled bits of chorizo and sliced peppers.
I was rather underwhelmed, unfortunately. I’m not a big fan of peppers anyway, so I’m sure that colored my opinion, but the sauce lacked depth — it was creamy without being cheesy. I do love a good chorizo and the version here is very tasty, but you’re better off ordering it in a different dish.
475 W. Broadway, 212-277-4300
I have to admit, I cheated a little and ordered Mr. Donahue’s through Caviar, but it arrived fresh and hot, so I think this review is legit.
First off, I love the concept of this restaurant. The meat and three (or two, in this case), is a hallmark of Nashville food, among other Southern cities, and it’s great to see it landing in New York. My dry-aged meatloaf (!) from here was phenomenal.
I, of course, ordered a side of the mac to sample. Similar to other Southern recipes, this is a very mild, creamy sauce. It’s not my personal favorite style of mac sauce because there’s no real bite to it, but I think it was executed very well. The pasta shape (it looked like the rarely-used capricci) was also well-suited for trapping the sauce. There was a sprinkling of fresh herbs and breadcrumbs on top, which didn’t really add much, but certainly felt in line with the 70s vibe of the restaurant and menu.
Would I order this mac again? Sadly, no, but I do recommend a trip here to sample the other outstanding sides and entrees.
203 Mott St., 646-850-9480
The Rainbow Room is one of the more iconic venues in New York and I’m delighted that they’ve reopened after a brief hiatus. A few weeks ago, Mike, Aveline, and I put on our Sunday finest and headed uptown to sample what I now think is the most exquisite brunch in the city.
Aside from the plethora of stations (crepes, bacon bar (!), dessert), you also order one entree from their menu. While I wasn’t planning on getting the mac and cheese (those truffle omelets were calling my name), our waiter was awesome and brought us one to try anyway. And I’m forever grateful that he did.
As you can see from the photo, this is no typical macaroni and cheese. Similar to The Clocktower’s, it’s more of a pasta dish that happens to have a cheese sauce. Here, it’s made up of braised beef short rib, mushroom ragu, and and big, fat pasta (I think it’s a paccheri), and topped with a shower of greens, shredded cheese, and onion parmesan crumble. The cheese sauce itself also has black truffle incorporated into it, so it’s pretty much decadent in every department.
While certainly not for the faint of heart (or anyone looking for a traditional mac and cheese), it’s delightful. The mushroom ragu, in particular, pairs very well with the mild cheese sauce. Even though we’d already barreled through monkey bread, biscuits, and about five pounds of smoked salmon (not to mention the other two entrees we ordered), we couldn’t resist polishing this off as well.
30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th Floor, 212-632-5000
First off, Aria Wine Bar might be my new favorite date night destination. Cozy tables, candles, and a really impressive menu of small Italian bites and fantastic pastas.
Macaroni and cheese isn’t really an Italian pasta dish, but I had heard raves about the version here, so, of course, we had to try it. You guys: it is phenomenal. They use a perfectly-al dente elbow pasta, which as you might know, is my favorite for mac and cheese. The cheese blend is an unusual one: Montasio (a hard cheese from Northern Italy), Parmesan, and Taleggio. Although you might think the pungent Taleggio would overwhelm the sauce, it instead just adds a kick of tang which is more than counterbalanced by the saltiness of the Montasio and Parm. I’m pretty sure all of these cheeses are suspended in a traditional besciamella, which IS very Italian.
The dish is covered by another layer of melty cheese on top, with perfect speckles from the broiler. There’s also truffle, as you can see the in the photo, but, to be honest, I couldn’t really taste it and didn’t think it was necessary.
All in all, I would definitely call this a destination mac.
Aria Wine Bar, 369 W. 51st St. 212-541-9241
Living in Greenwich Village means I don’t trek up to the Upper East Side much for lunch, but I will gladly walk the 70+ blocks north for E.A.T.’s macaroni and cheese.
This mac strikes the perfect balance between creamy and cheesy. The sauce itself is thick and rich, like any good bechamel, but there’s also a ton of melted cheese in the dish, which makes for a nice textural balance. The cheese blend itself is made with many different varieties, but the Swiss shines through the most (though there’s a nice Gouda and Parmesan kick as well). A delicate sprinkling of breadcrumbs completes the dish, giving a little crunch to the top layer of noodle.
As you can see from the photo, this mac is made with penne, an excellent choice as the shape can hold sauce in its hollow as well as within the ridges on the outside of the pasta. The penne in this dish is cooked beyond al dente, but the soft pasta paired with the decadent sauce just makes it more comforting, in my opinion. Al dente penne sometimes doesn’t hold cheese sauce as well, anyway.
Side note: E.A.T. does all carb and cheese pairings well: the grilled cheese here is one of the best in the city.
E.A.T., 1064 Madison Ave., 212-772-0022