MAC'D.....wait, they eat carbs in the Marina!!
Mac and cheese is the ultimate in comfort food, I think that is something most folks can agree on. It has all the things you look for when seeking solace in food. Ooey, gooey cheese and tasty carb loading pasta that combines simply to fill you up and make you feel good. Plus, it probably isn't the most healthy thing, but who wants healthy when you just want something tasty that makes you sigh in happiness.
It is such a popular dish that even here in the health and carb conscious Bay Area it appears as a side dish on innumerable menus plus there are whole restaurants dedicated to it! Shocking! And in case you didn't know some are Homeroom, MacDaddy and a relatively new one called MAC'D, in the Marina of all places. (You know, that "healthy" neighborhood where all the ponytailed women walk around in Lulu Lemon pants and the guys always seem like they just got back from playing pick up basketball)
To be honest, I didn't even know the place had opened as I totally missed whatever notice there may have been about it. I just happened to stumble across on one my walkabouts around the city. Fortunately, all the walking had gotten me hungry and I figured I could just do a little carbo loading before the long walk back home.
It is a walk up counter serve spot and the way it works is you choose your cheese sauce, then your pasta, then items to mix in it, then toppings. This will all run you $11 (plus tax) for most any permutations you can come up with. They do have upcharges for some of the add ins like try-tip, lobster(!), crab and shrimp, but that's understandable as those meats are top shelf. Barring those, technically you could get all 12-15 (as they change sometimes) of the "mix-ins" in your mac. Of course that means you'll be eating hot dogs with kimchi and banana peppers, but hey, to each their own right?
After perusing my choices for way too long (yes, I was over thinking the whole thing) I went with the basic, a creamy white cheese béchamel based sauce, some pasta shells and then to offset the all the cheese and pasta I went veggie heavy-ish with peas, broccoli and mushrooms but of course I couldn't pass up some bacon too. I then topped it off with parmesan shavings and truffle oil.
All together this what it looked like. Upon first impression, not bad for how it all came together and the portion sized is decent enough for the price as it is pretty much an entree serving you are getting here and not a side dish. In true comfort food tradition, it was definitely hearty and thick. And just to give you some more angles and insight into it, here's a short video, because I'm still trying new things on the blog.
Each is made to order, which can lead to it taking some time to get, but it is hot and steaming when you get it. The basic white cheese béchamel sauce is plentiful, though it is more of a thick and sticky sauce as opposed to soft and creamy. Also I can't say it has much flavor as say a standard cheddar cheese like most home made mac and cheeses. They do have a selection of hot sauces available to kick up the flavor if you are into that.
For this sauce your flavor is going to come from the mix-ins which I'm happy to report are plentiful through out as you can see in the video. I'm sure they are portioned out but there were ample amounts of broccoli, peas, mushrooms and more specifically bacon which helped add some smokey saltiness to the mix. The tang of the parmesan and the truffle oil are also good additions to excite a plain sauce. The pasta itself was probably cooked just a tad bit over as it wasn't quite al dente, but it wasn't total mush either, so good enough considering there was some crunch in the broccoli to add texture.
Basic sauce aside, I did actually like what I had when they were all mixed together. It was definitely a filling meal my taste buds were happy with. So much so in fact, I was intrigued enough to go back and try their carb-free option. That's right, I mean how could not have that choice for Atkins diet people or those who don't want gluten. Instead of pasta you can sub in roasted cauliflower, though it is gonna cost you an additional $2. I decided to suck it up and pay the extra to see if it was worth it or not. This time I went with The Goddess--a garlic cheese sauce, the cauliflower as pasta and then for toppings mushroom, peas, broccoli and bacon again(!) but also chicken, corn and ham.
Not bad as it does make a pretty dish and came in a bowl instead of to go tin this time. I will say, the portion of cauliflower was pretty large, like half a head and they did a good job of cooking as it wasn't too mushy soft or too undercooked crunchy. Mixed with the broccoli, it did give it levels of texture besides all soft like you might get with pasta. The garlic also wasn't overwhelming either, but just enough to taste it without feeling like you need a packet of mints afterward. Plus, it had enough of each of the mix-ins you could actually taste them. I'll rate this one as another winner even with the extra cost. Most notably since the cauliflower filled me up more and I had enough to take home for later.
I guess you can probably tell from the review I liked MAC'D, and while I couldn't necessarily eat pasta all the time, it is great they have a no carb option. Not to mention, you can keep it somewhat healthy with loads of veggie options, which also makes this place vegetarian, vegan (they have a sauce for it) and gluten-free friendly-ish. I mean, beyond the fact it is the Marina it is also SF and you gotta have your bases covered to appeal to as many people as possible. Add in the fact this is comfort food royalty and tasty, makes it an easy crowd pleasure. Though, I notice they are open till 2am on Fridays and Saturdays which says "hey, I'm drunk from bar hopping in the area and want something cheesy and filling to soak up all that alcohol," and means you may want to avoid the place during those late hour times. Unless of course drunk is what you are then totally enjoy it!