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Mac and Cheese Has Got to Go

August 13, 2015

It all started innocently enough. Where, I don’t know. But some innovative chef at a fancy restaurant decided he would get a little playful and start putting comfort foods from childhood on the menu.

I remember the root beer float at Aqua in San Francisco showing up about fifteen years ago. And shortly after at Masa, as a treat after the meal, they sent you home with a house made lollipop. At the time, those were charming and whimsical. But what little foresight we had to predict where these flirtations would ultimately lead.

First it was just an elevated version of macaroni and cheese. You know, better ingredients, a focus on technique, super rich, buttery, and indulgent. And I think in some ways I might still be able to get behind that.

But things flew off the tracks a while ago, and this trend may be doing more harm than good.

Where did it start going wrong? Well, do you remember the arms race of cheeses? Three cheese, four cheese, five cheese, and so on, under the false idea that more types of cheeses will make a macaroni and cheese more delicious. They don’t. Some cheeses turn grainy when melted. Others overpower the dish. It was madness.

And on cue, the effort focused on putting other stuff in the macaroni and cheese. You could call it gilding the lily, perhaps. Or it could be called taking mediocre food and trying to make it better by drenching it in cheese, butter, and white flour.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the flavor of Frank’s Red Hot on everything. Especially when accompanied by blue cheese. I’m not saying that every version of Buffalo chicken mac and cheese tastes bad. But a great Buffalo wing is a thing of beauty. You don’t put a masterpiece like that in a bowl of noodles and cheese sauce. Instead, Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese takes a lesser version of the form and folds it into mix.

Then came the lobster.

With the lobster came some astronomical price tag. And with the staggering popularity of this premium priced dish, lobster macaroni and cheese started appearing on fancy menus everywhere.

I’ve never understood the kind of person who wants to take tender, delicate lobster meat, and bake it in a cheesy bechamel with pasta. I’ve had lobster pot pies, and lobster newburg. I know the joys that can come from adding cream to shellfish. But it’s the cheese part that gets me. I suppose there is a case to be made for lobster thermidor, but in that classic dish the main component is still the lobster.

Part of me is concerned that this will be the restaurant trend that never dies.

And maybe it doesn’t have to die entirely. Macaroni and cheese is a delicious dish. Mostly for kids. But I’m willing to accept a maximum of one elevated preparation per restaurant. However, I totally think we need a cooling off period first. Because this dish is far too saturated in the local and national dining scene.

Walking into a restaurant without macaroni and cheese on the menu is like a big sigh of relief.

Speaking of which, last night I finally made it to Peck’s Arcade, and really enjoyed it. Look out for the Yelp review coming soon. Of note, not only is there no macaroni and cheese on the menu at Peck’s, but there is no hamburger either. It’s almost like they are excited to be making real food for adults who can take great joy at being adults without yearning for the pleasures of childhood.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Grace permalink
    August 13, 2015 12:01 pm

    The worst offender is Mac and cheese with truffle oil. Actually, truffle oil is just offensive.

  2. Mmm permalink
    August 16, 2015 4:38 am

    My first recollection of “adult” mac-n-cheese was a lobster mac-n-cheese made by chef Un-Hui way back in the ’90 when she was an unknown cook who rose from the rank of dishwasher to head cook at Albany’s Ginger Man restaurant. This was way before her days as a chef and restaurateur at Mingle. No other restaurant in the area at the time had such a dish on their menu. Back then the dish was considered innovative.

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