Editor's note: Macaroni and cheese is thought by many to be the ultimate in comfort food. For many years, my upstairs neighbor celebrated New Year's Day by making huge vats of mac and cheese and having people over to eat, watch the Big Lebowski and drink White Russians, so in my mind, mac and cheese is linked with New Year's Day. And although S'MAC, the all-mac-and-cheese spot in the East Village is closed on New Year's Day, we chatted with Sarita Ekya to learn more about the comforting appeal of that perfect mix of carbs and cheese.
Name: Sarita Ekya
Location: East Village
Occupation: Co-owner, S'MAC
How did you come up with the idea of a restaurant devoted entirely to macaroni and cheese? It was actually an idea generated from casual conversation with my husband over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I commented on how great it would be to open up a place that served PB&J, grilled cheese and mac and cheese. And then, the mac and cheese idea stuck with us and we couldn't let go of it.
Why do you think people find mac and cheese to be such a go-to comfort food? In the USA and Canada, especially, almost everyone has eaten mac and cheese at some point in his or her life—whether it be growing up as a child, college days or cooking a quick meal at home for the family. It's such a warm and fulfilling dish that can be re-invented in so many different ways!
What's your favorite of the mac and cheese varieties you offer? I do love them all but I think the Alpine (with Gruyère and slab bacon) is my go-to at any given time.
Do you have a recipe for the home cook for mac and cheese that you are willing to share? We are all about sharing the mac and cheese love. On our website you can can currently see our recipe for the Napoletana.
Where do you like to eat when you're not working? One of the joys of living in NYC is the plethora of restaurants! And there are so many that I do enjoy. Otto is one of my favorites, along with Mercadito. And I am always looking for new gluten-free places as I have a gluten intolerance.
What is your favorite comfort food dish in New York (or favorite comfort food in general, especially when you're hung over)? My favorite comfort food dish could very well be french fries....and a lot of them!!!
Best pizza in the city? Since I am gluten-intolerant, there aren't too many pizza options for me. However, thank goodness for Pala in the LES, as they offer a delicious gluten free crust! Before my intolerance, however, I used to frequent Una Pizza Napoletana which I would have to say, hands down, is the best pizza in the city.
Favorite burger? The burger at Royale in Alphabet City. Simple yet delicious. No skimping on the meat there.
Favorite bagel? Never liked bagels so would be unfair to comment on this one.
Best late-night eats? Pommes Frites go down well at 4 a.m. Especially with some Mexican ketchup. Or if I am at home, I always go for popcorn. Gee, I am seeing a total carb trend here...
Undiscovered gem? There is this lovely tea room on East 5th Street called Podunk. It's a place where you can stroll in, pick up a book off the shelf, buy a pot of tea and feel at home. There is no pretense there whatsoever.
Guilty pleasures? These days I am a total hot chocolate girl. Made with whole milk, of course.
Food you won't eat? There is very little that I won't eat. I was in India last month and sampled lungs and testicles of a goat. No word of a lie.
Most memorable New York City meal? This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. So much of my life is based around food, therefore so many memories involve food and wine. I think the first time my husband and I went to Nobu will be one of those "unforgettable" meals. But I have to say, when we packed a sampling of cheeses and a bottle of wine from the North Fork and sat our butts down in Tompkins Square Park, that meal was pretty memorable as well.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? My friend Barbara, who is a chef in the city. She always steers me in the right direction.
What's the best recommendation she has given you? Back Forty which is literally a breath away from where I live. But it's one of those places that you may just miss if you aren't looking.
345 East 12th Street (b/n 1st and 2nd Avenues; map)