The BEST mac & cheese of all time

Skillets full of cheese and happiness.

Most of my italian friends would be horrified if they knew just how much I love macaroni and cheese. They would snub their big aquiline noses at this beloved comfort food of mine and scoff, “You Americans. You just don’t know how to eat.”

But if any of them, if any single one of those pasta-snob Italians on that whole peninsula, ate just one forkful of the mac and cheese that I had the great pleasure of eating this weekend, they would never, ever say another bad thing about it ever again. “America, you win this time,” they would say.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Italian pasta (above all other ethnic foods in fact), and on most days I even love most of the Italians I know. So this is nothing against them. But the mac and cheese I had Saturday night at S’MAC in the East Village deserves worldwide recognition. Its praises deserve to be sung from rooftops around the globe. So I’m starting here.

At S’MAC its all macaroni and cheese and not much else. The macs, made with either regular, whole wheat or glutten free noodles, all come in cast iron skillets ranging from the small “nosh” to the humongous “partay!” and can be topped with breadcrumbs or without. The menu lists 12 different variations or the option of building your own from their wide selection of cheeses (gruyere, manchego and pecorino to name a few) and “mix-ins” such as Andouille sausages, roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives.

A forkful of AWESOME

While indecision usually strikes me at moments like these, I knew right away what I wanted when I read the description: the Parisienne. “Mac-n-Cheese for the ‘upper crust’. Creamy Brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitake mushrooms & fresh rosemary.” SOLD.

When it came to the table, the “major munch” I had ordered was a lot bigger than I had expected. The skillet, filled to the very brim with the most beautifully baked-to-a-bubbly-warm-brown crispy gold crust, was big enough to easily feed two people. This was exciting. I knew I would eat every last noodle in that skillet and scrape off every last bit of melted cheese if it took me all night.

This mac and cheese smelled incredible, like a cheese-a-holic’s wildest fantasy, but maddening as it was, that smell didn’t even hold a candle to the taste of that first bite. Thick, creamy, ooey gooey cheesy Brie amazingness seemed to melt in my mouth and into my very heart. It was one of those bites that makes you close your eyes for a second and try and memorize everything about the moment.

Dear God if I had to relive one moment for all of eternity, THIS would be it.

I dug my fork into the cheese-filled skillet, poking through the thick, chewy top crust and resurfacing with dangling noodles covered in creamy gold cheese, peppered with bits of fresh rosemary and the smooth, roasted shiitake mushrooms that tangled themselves amongst the macaroni. I was in heaven. So much so that as I happily chomped along, I completely forgot there were figs inside. (A note about figs: I am obsessed with them. Last summer, any corner fruit vendor that had them got my business and any dish or dessert that includes them is usually ordered my way. When I left Italy and moved to the city, one of the things I brought with me was a small jar of fig preserves to go with the wedge of pecorino I brought my roommate.) When I took another heaping forkful and bit down on a soft chunk of that oh-so-sweet familiar fruit, I seriously almost lost it.

“Oh! A fig! Oh my God, a fig! Oh, I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.”

Flaneur just smiled at me. He knows when to let me just enjoy the moment.

I could eat an Olympic-sized pool full of this stuff.

The mushrooms were laced throughout the mac and cheese but the figs were less frequent, which in my opinion was a great thing. They were so sweet that each bite turned into a deliciously fun game of anticipation. Will this one have it? How ’bout this one? Oh wait, there it is! And just like that, it was a sugary sweet explosion of taste mixing in with the cheese, mushrooms and rosemary. Any more figs would have been overpowering. These were the exact perfect amount.

But like I said, the “major munch” size was massive and after a certain point, beyond the point of my stomach feeling like it was about to burst and my jeans feeling like they were ready to give out on me, I had to stop. I couldn’t go on. They say you should stop eating when you feel feel full and for me that had been about 8 huge forkfuls ago. So I asked for a to-go box (which they had a million of, because I guess lots of people find themselves in my predicament) and packed the last of my delicious mac and cheese to take home with me.

We hadn’t even been home for half an hour when I said, “Oh screw it. I can’t wait till tomorrow. I wanna finish my mac and cheese.” And even at room temperature (because I hadn’t even put it in the fridge yet) and eaten out of a styrofoam container, it was the best damn macaroni and cheese I have ever had.

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Weirdest non-edible food item of the weekend

I don't know what my dentist would say about this.

While perusing the large assortment of sometimes cool, sometimes weird, sometimes just plain out-there Asian merchandise at SoHo’s Pearl River Mart I saw this unappetizing spin on the ol’ dental chore of flossing. Even I think this is too much but hey, if it gets people flossing then so be it, right? As much as I love breakfast foods, I think I’ll stick to my plain old mint flavored floss.

K-Town feast

Most weeks, by the time Friday rolls around, I’m beat and like to unwind by eating. (Yes, I know…) Sometimes, like last week, I ring in the weekend with a snack like a cupcake or cheesecake (or both) and other times, like this week, it’s with a whole feast. The kind that makes you look around to make sure no one is watching when you undo the top button on your pants.

Korea town was just a few blocks from where we were, and a couple of restaurants on 32nd street, between Fifth Ave. and Broadway in the most concentrated part of K-Town, were on my to-do list so that’s where we headed.

Maybe it was because of the nasty cold rain steadily coming down outside, but the second we walked in to Kang Suh I felt that we had made the right choice. A great choice. A warm and delicious smelling choice.

The menu was huge, an encyclopedia of Korean eats and sushi. Two asian girls at the table next to us had a dozen different dishes, bowls and what looked like a skillet before them. I wanted to lean over and say, “Hey, would you guys mind ordering for us? Cause your table looks awesome.” But I didn’t. Cause really, that would be awkward.

So after lots of flipping back and forth through the menu, bargaining and strategizing with Flaneur, we were ready when the waitress came by for our order.

We decided to split an appetizer but before it came, a waiter came by with a tray full of small plates which he arranged across our table before walking away without comment.

“What is this stuff?”

“I dunno. Let’s eat it.”

The plates just kept coming and coming...

From left to right in the picture, the first dish seemed to be some sort of hot peppers. So hot that Flaneur practically spit his out and said I could eat all them. (And I did.) Next, on the top was some sort of fish bits in a sweet teriyaki style sauce. The plate below it was full of tangy, slightly spicy cabbage leaves. The middle plate had soy sauce with what appeared to be scallions and possibly something else. (Garlic maybe?) Next to it on the top were some mixed pickled vegetable strips. Below it was something that tasted like shellfish and cucumber. (Flaneur’s allergic to shellfish so I never got a second opinion.) Finally, on the right was a broccoli type green veggie. I’m a little unsure about everything because like I said we never ordered it. It just came mysteriously with no explanation. But it was good and that was enough for me.

Next out was our appetizer, the tasty-as-all-hell mandoo gui. Fried to a crispy golden brown on the outside and stuffed full with beef, these things were addictive. Sometimes dumplings are greasy (if they’re fried) or have that rubbery, almost greyish dough on the outside but these had neither. They were pretty perfect if you ask me.

Delicious dumplings and creepy carrot butterfly.

Flaneur’s entree came out first, but it didn’t matter because we /I had decided to split both main courses. Japchae, Korean starch noodles fried with vegetables and beef seasoned in soy sauce came in a giant mound and were delicious. It was hard to keep myself from shoveling it all down my throat in one sitting but I managed to restrain myself.

Noodles, veggies and beef

Next came my pick, which I have to admit was something I chose because it sounded a little unusual, like something I’d never had before: Heukyomso Tang, a spicy stew of black goat meat with pepper, sesame leaves and vegetables served with rice. It came in a black cast iron pot  with thick swirls of steam billowing out of it. One of those things that makes people at other tables look over and wonder what you’re eating. With the dreary wet weather outside, this was the perfect thing to be eating.

Spicy goat stew

When we were finally done eating our table looked like a deserted battle field: all empty plates, abandoned chopsticks, stray noodles stuck to dishes, stew dripping over the side of the mini-cauldron. And then there was us, almost panting, bellies full, pants just a little tighter. Although the rain was unrelentling and I could see the wind snapping people’s umbrellas’s inside out, I was prepared to deal with the walk home. I was full and happy, just the way I like to be after my kick-off to the weekend.