On the left of the above Red Lobster Lobsterfest Maine Lobster and Shrimp Trio is their Shrimp and Lobster Mac 'N' Cheese, a new dish that I think is one of the tastiest casseroles of all time. I consider one of my major wins to be the fact that my suggestion, when filling out their online survey, that they offer it as a permanent menu item, has happened, and it is now an official ongoing side dish by itself. The pleasure this item gives me, with its white cheddar and bacon sauce, topped with parmesan crumbs, goes beyond any culinary essence into that strange and wonderful area of comfort food.
This is interesting to me because I never had Mac 'N' Cheese as a child, it was not on my mother's list of edible family meals--my father was strictly a meat and potatoes man. And in all the thousands of restaurant meals I've enjoyed, this item on the Lobsterfest menu was the first time I ever saw the traditional favorite listed with or without the luxury of shrimp and lobster.
So imagine my surprise when my good friend, theatre historian and author, Bonnie Weiss, who knows more about good places to eat in San Francisco than anyone I can think of, recommended we eat before a show last night at a place called Grub. Lo and behold, when I checked its website and read some reviews, I found that a favorite feature was their Mac 'N' Cheese bar. I would argue with that designation if it served any purpose, as it is not a bar in the sense that you go up and select your choices. Oh, there are choices, lots of them. They are called "throw ins" and include the following:
They charge $3 for the steak or lobster, but just $1 each for all the others. I had caramelized onions, spanish chorizo, and crispy pancetta, which I had never heard of before. I looked it up and found it to be a pork belly dish often called "Italian bacon", and what cinched it for me was the "crispy" part and the fact that it is cured with salt and spices such as nutmeg and fennel, then dried for a few months. Frankly, the final result was not as delicious as the Red Lobster version, nor as crunchy, but still an exceptional meal, and served in a large bowl so that I've saved enough of it for a substantial lunch after I finish writing this post. I think, however, I will add one of my favorite childhood comfort foods--Hebrew National Beef Salami--plus some chopped celery and walnuts.
I suppose what my point is, other than my loving to discuss foods and flavors that I enjoy, is that some foods are comfort foods just because comfort is an inherent quality they have, not based on childhood nostalgia at all. My very first exposure to any version of Mac 'N' Cheese was as an adult in the form of Stouffers Noodles Romanoff. I would put the frozen entree in the oven and bake it until it was extra crispy and crunchy. I can still remember the taste of it and miss it a lot. I went online and found that I was not the only one mourning its disappearance. Many people also bemoan the loss of a do-it-yourself Noodles Romanoff from Betty Crocker. There are recipes galore for duplicating these treats, but that's not nearly the same to me.
Though considered a very American dish, macaroni and cheese casseroles have a long history around the world. It shows up in a 14th Century English cookbook, and Thomas Jefferson is the first American known to have featured it on a menu for a state dinner. He imported both the pasta and the parmesan cheese.
Though I have decried the loss of some favorite foods, such as Stouffers Noodles Romanoff, and the fact that fast food chains have replaced many family restaurants across the nation, there are some very silver linings in our national food experience. Lots of diversity in our ethnic choices, lots of experimentation unheard of even a decade ago, such as the kinky molecular gastronomy combining the culinary and science lab arts. And who would have thought of adding all those Throw-ins listed above to simple Mac 'N' Cheese?
The only challenge left is to figure out how many more trips to Grub it will take before I get to sample all the Throw-ins. What a great time to be alive and hungry!
It is indeed an abundant world we live in. More on that on my prosperity blog at http://MoneyloveBlog.com