Tantalum’s Truffle Mac n’ Cheez

Posted: 9.30.2011 in I love to eat, does that make me a foodie?, Ultimate Mac 'n' Cheese Quest

When we ended up at Tantalum in Long Beach, it wasn’t with plans to eat at the “exotic dining” waterfront restaurant. And even more so, it wasn’t with intentions of eating macaroni and cheese. When I visited the marina-side restaurant’s website earlier in the day, it was in search of a venue with music and dancing for a girls’ night out that would be happening several hours later.

All the food on the menu sounded delicious, and Yelpers raved about the dishes, particularly the calamari. But I didn’t give it too much thought and actually figured dining in would have to wait since we were just going for drinks and to hopefully dance when the DJ started spinning at 9:30.

All my assumptions and plans went out the window when the other girls wanted food upon arriving at Tantalum. Though not as hungry, I caved in and ordered an appetizer too: a superb fried brie with raspberry chipotle drizzle. Although everything we ordered (and shared) was VERY good – even the calamari, and I am not a seafood person – this review is dedicated to the Truffle Mac n’ Cheez, an item under the “Tantalizers” section of the menu.

The orange-yellow goodness came out piping hot in a mini cast-iron skillet. The pasta wasn’t swimming in grease like other skillet-served mac and cheeses I’ve had, so I was already happy before it hit the table. The top layer was a golden brown, either from baking or flash heating under the broiler. My friend recalled it as “a burnt crisp” – for her, that’s a good thing. For me, it was a a great toasted crunch. And for the cook, it was a perfect “asiago gratin,” a brown crust of grated asiago cheese.

This particular macaroni and cheese used gamelli pasta, a spiral tube noodle about two inches in length, which isn’t very common for mac and cheese. I will admit that because gamelli is a longer noodle, it made getting my mouth around a few spiked on a fork a little awkward. Aside from that, it was a pleasantly unique choice for the dish.

The cheese sauce was more creamy than it was stringy (i.e. not like mozzarella pizza cheese), I’m guessing due in part to the truffle oil and types of cheeses used. The consistency was pretty good: less on the saturating, thick side, but runny would be too harsh of an adjective. Unfortunately, the sauce didn’t have a lot of flavor, bordering on bland. As I write this, I’m struggling to remember the taste – so obviously nothing stood out. It didn’t have any particular spice that gave it a bite or sharp cheddar kick.

Shared among six girls, the Truffle Mac n’ Cheez didn’t last long. But my friend and I both commented afterward that had there not been help, we might not have eaten the entire dish – something that normally wouldn’t be a problem for our mac-and-cheese-loving selves.

The place: Tantalum, Long Beach
The dish: Truffle Mac n’ Cheez, $11
The ingredients: Gamelli noodles, cream, truffle oil, asiago gratin
The verdict: Tasty, but not enough to lick the plate clean, or even finish the dish. I’d suggest going for the calamari instead.

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