The idea for this blog came about from the trend toward comfort foods, just with a gourmet twist. So most of the mac ‘n’ cheese dishes I reviewed were either gourmet plates or the main offering of a pasta-focused restaurant (like at Mac & Cheeza). But the Macaroni & Cheese I’ve heard so much about served at The Penthouse, which is the top-floor restaurant at The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, is simply listed under sides – no description, no additions, no spotlight.
I was lucky enough to dine at the pricey Penthouse for my first time on the dime of my employer, so I planned to take advantage of the opportunity to review the popular dish. I explained my column and the cheesy journey it chronicles, and then convinced them to embark with me on this next adventure. So by the time the mini cauldron – yes, as in a black steel pot – came out, filled to the brim with large elbow noodles and oozing cheese, we were all very excited.
Despite the odd dish choice, the presentation was very neat. Our waiter warned that the “side” wouldn’t be enough for all eight of us, but the small cauldron ended up being deceptive because each of us had a couple scoops. The top of the macaroni and cheese was crisp, shiny and golden brown in spots. These characteristics are due to the dish’s last few steps before serving: it’s put in a salamander (a special broiler used in restaurants and by professional chefs) for flash cooking of the surface. Underneath, the cheese wasn’t rubbery at all and was especially creamy the further you go to the bottom.
Just based on looks, I think the cheese is what sold me (aside from the cute little cauldron). I could imagine how tasty and gooey it was going to be. But in the first bite, each of us were let down. The cheese is actually quite bland; though, creamy with a good consistency, it doesn’t have much flavor. We all agreed it needed more of a kick, whether from a different type of cheese, say, sharp cheddar, or another ingredient, such as a potent spice or green chilis.
Also, the macaroni noodles were cooked al dente (slightly tougher). I prefer mine fully cooked, so it was another downfall for me, but a couple people in the group liked the al dente noodles.
The place: The Penthouse at The Huntley, Santa Monica
The dish: Macaroni & Cheese, $10
The ingredients: Large elbow noodles, Vermont aged white cheddar, cream, garlic
The verdict: I expected more from a place called The Penthouse and “known for its macaroni and cheese” so I’d suggest trying one of the other tasty items on the menu, or checking out the venue when it’s popping on a Saturday night.