baker & co, west village

IMG_5075

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

aria wine bar, west village

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 11.32.45 AM.png

photo credit: aria wine bar

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

murray’s cheese, west village

IMG_9248

You may recall that I’ve already covered Murray’s mac and cheese in a previous post, but this post refers to the grab-and-go variety (not to be confused with the refrigerated take-and-bake!) that you get at the cheese shop, not Murray’s Cheese Bar, the restaurant.

Murray’s Cheese is my happy place. It is conveniently located halfway between my gym and my apartment, which means I NEVER have to go hungry on my walk back. I’m here at least a few times a week, picking up snacking cheeses, cheese for recipes, yogurt for breakfast, and, occasionally, chocolates and caramels. And, since I’m convinced that mac and cheese is the ultimate pregnancy superfood, I’ve been frequenting this spot even more than normal.

Many people don’t even realize that the shop has hot food. Apart from selling cheese, Murray’s actually has a dedicated grilled cheese counter (which, by the way, makes some of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city). In one corner of this, you will find their mac and cheese operation. You choose your size and your mix-ins, they stick it under a broiler to get nice and bubbly, and finally they hand it over to you in a portable paper cup. The whole process takes just a few minutes. Note: you CAN’T choose your types of cheese or pasta, but, they’re cheese experts; they know what they’re doing.

While their exact cheese blend is proprietary and a closely-guarded secret (I believe it’s the same as at the restaurant), it’s rich and nuanced; you definitely taste a mix of sharp, nutty and creamy cheeses. As you can see in the picture, Murray’s uses radiatori, which picks up a lot of the thick sauce. I opted for chicken and spinach as my mix-ins, which were tasty, but I would have liked a little bit more of each. Each finished product also gets sprinkled with a dusting of breadcrumbs, which lends a nice little crunch.

My major reason for loving this mac — apart from the fact that it tastes good — is that I don’t know any other place that’s churning out high-quality dishes like this while still making them portable. Sure, there’s S’MAC or Macbar, but you can’t really walk and eat those; even if you do order them as carryout.

Plus, if you eat it after a workout, there are no calories. That’s just science.

Murray’s Cheese, 254 Bleecker St, 212-243-3289

murray’s cheese bar, west village

When I try to put how I feel about Murray’s Cheese into words, I’m left utterly speechless. It is my Disney World. The cheese selection, is, of course, outstanding. The made-to-order grilled cheeses make me go weak in the knees. I can spend 10 minutes just debating what flavor of artisanal ice cream I want to take home. Don’t even get me started on the yogurt.

So, yes, this place knows its dairy. And while the actual cheese shop has a bake-it-yourself variety, I recommend moseying down a few storefronts to try the hot and bubbly mac and cheeses at Murray’s Cheese Bar, their full-service restaurant. This week, I was lucky enough to partake in a tasting of all four of their offerings while having dinner with Murray’s owner Rob Kaufelt, who is probably one of the coolest humans I’ve ever met. I urged him to consider writing an autobiography, so stay tuned on that front.

Now, on to the macs:

Murray’s Classic

FullSizeRender

This is the mac that sailed a thousand ships. When I asked what cheeses were included, Rob looked at me grimly and said he’d have to kill me first. BUT! I can tell you that, among others, there is Comte and Irish Cheddar in the mix. All of Murray’s macs use what looks like radiatori pasta, which is an uncommon choice. But, the shape is really rather ingenious because all of the ridges can hold a lot of sauce (and Murray’s sauce is rich and thick, so it clings well). Murray’s also bakes their pastas, so the texture veers towards a softer bite, which is extremely satisfying when you have nugget-like pasta like a radiatori. The classic is probably the mildest out of all the varieties on offer.

Pulled Pork

FullSizeRender_2

Looking for something a little heartier? This carnivorous mac features tender pulled pork with English Tickler Cheddar and pimento. I am a big advocate of salty, powerful cheeses in my mac sauce and this is a wonderful marriage of two superb specimens. But, hey, I would expect nothing less from a restaurant that sources its cheeses from the preeminent cheese shop in the city (the world?). It’s also especially mouth-watering when cheese sauce is as orange as this one.

Roasted Ramp Pesto

FullSizeRender_1

I may be one of those pesky foodies who gets all hot and bothered about ramps. But, seriously, have you tried them in pesto? So, this limited-time mac (ramp season is woefully short) combines two of my great loves. It nearly brought me to tears. While the sauce is pesto-based, it’s still spectacularly cheesy, and gets a nice sharp kick from the garlicky alliums. I’ve never had a mac quite like this one. Go try this now, before it’s off the menu.

Cinco de Mayo 

FullSizeRender_3

Another limited-run creation for the holiday, this featured chorizo, cilantro, pico de gallo and avocado. Unconventional? Yes. But the chorizo, not too spicy and very flavorful, imbued the cheese sauce with spices that you’re unlikely to find in other mac sauces. It was creamy, tangy, spicy and, of course, cheesy. I’m not sure what the cheese blend in this variety was exactly, but I’d guess there was some sharp cheddar in there. It doesn’t matter: it was rad.

Huge thanks to Rob for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat cheese with me. I hope it won’t be the last time!

Murray’s Cheese Bar, 264 Bleecker St. 646-476-8882

the waverly inn, west village

photo via Yelp

photo via Yelp

Oh, The Waverly. Back in my salad days (i.e. as a disgruntled nightlife reporter), I spent far too many a night there, sipping non-alcoholic cocktails at the bar while darting surreptitious glances toward Beyonce as she picked at her roasted veggies in the corner. While I certainly don’t miss spending all of my dinners there, I do miss getting to expense Waverly’s insane truffle mac and cheese.

In around 2008, when the Waverly was essentially the only restaurant in the West Village, you would see an order of this on almost every table. What made that outrageous was the price tag on this baby: white truffles could send it soaring to somewhere around $200, if memory serves.

Now, while I never saddled my company with the bill for my own serving, I was lucky enough to get to sample this on quite a few occasions. This was thanks to the generosity of those few bankers who somehow managed to escape the recession and wanted everyone to know about it.

Yes, it is expensive. But I would rather not eat for two days (or two weeks) if it meant I got to scarf this down. My favorite part about this dish is the type of pasta they use: hollow corkscrews. I believe they’re cellentani. Between the spiral shape and the tube, you get a large amount of sauce both stuck to and inside each piece of pasta, which is extremely satisfying. The sauce itself is a mix of Monterey Jack and Cheddar, so it’s gooey but not really stringy. A quick pop under the broiler ensures a nice crispy crust, as well.

But, the kicker is the truffles. I, for one, never get tired of white truffles, regardless of whether or not they’re currently trendy. And cheese and truffle might be the best combination of them all. The fragrance of this mac alone is worth about $50 (in imaginary money in my head).

Side note: another reason to love this place? It’s where Mike took me right after we got engaged.

The Waverly Inn, 16 Bank St., 917.828.1154