Best Bets: Lobster Mac and Cheese

Lobster Mac and Cheese at Rain Premier Sushi Bar & Bistro.

Photo by Michael Donahue, MIchael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

Lobster Mac and Cheese at Rain Premier Sushi Bar & Bistro.

One memorable birthday weekend I ate lobster thermidor on Friday at Antoine's restaurant in New Orleans, lobster at Chez Philippe at The Peabody on Saturday and broiled lobster on Sunday at Red Lobster on Summer (that was the only place open that served lobster and I wanted to keep the theme going).

Obviously, I love lobster. I miss Pappy's Lobster Shack and Anderton's. So, I was intrigued when Erica Vichathep, server manager at Rain Premier Sushi Bar & Bistro, told me about their Lobster Mac and Cheese last month at a fund-raiser.

I finally made it back to Rain this week to try their take on macaroni and cheese. Actually, it's co-executive chef Minh "Pho" Nguyen's take.

The best description would be a Creole macaroni and cheese dish, if such a thing exists. It's rich, creamy, riddled with lobster, and includes bacon along with the cheese. The bacon doesn't overpower the lobster. It's something that would be right at home at Antoine's along with the lobster thermidor.

It's served in one of those small cast iron skillets and, even though it's an appetizer, it was enough to fill me up.

Nguyen, who is from Saigon, Vietnam, told me macaroni and cheese was one of his favorite things to eat after moving to the United States in 1979. "My mom used to make it all the time for me," he said. "Being an Asian family, we didn't do mac and cheese. Our sponsors used to make it all the time. My mom had her recipe."

Someone at Rain suggested Nguyen make a crab meat macaroni and cheese. He had a lot of lobsters on hand, so he used lobster instead. The dish, which has been on the menu for a year, now is one of the restaurant's best sellers along with Nguyen's lobster bisque.

He uses Canadian lobster because Maine lobsters are hard to get right now. He glazes shallots and garlic with chardonnay wine and makes a blonde bechamel sauce with the shallots and garlic, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary and bacon drippings. He reduces it and adds elbow macaroni and five cheeses -- aged white and yellow cheddar, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano and "a little bit of goat cheese right at the end to give it that tartness. And a little bit of honey."

Nguyen blanches the lobster and sautes it in garlic butter in a separate pan. He then puts everything in a cast iron pan, adds panko butter on top and lets the mixture bake for 5 or 6 minutes at 600 degrees "to give it that crust" with the butter. "I put the bacon on last. Break it down into bacon bits."

If rich food makes you dream wild dreams, Rain's Lobster Mac and Cheese is why my elaborate dreams that night resembled episodes of "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Great Performances" and movies produced by Merchant Ivory.

Robert Charles, a server at Rain, best summed up the dish: "I like mac and cheese by itself. I love lobster by itself. When you put two good things together, it's heaven."

Rain Premier Sushi Bar & Bistro is at 1250 N. Germantown Pkwy., No. 101; (901) 746-9455.

Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; donahue@commercialappeal.com

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