Baia Pasta's Mac And Cheese - San Francisco

Baia Pasta seduces with America's favorite dish

You could call mac and cheese Baia Pasta's ambassador dish.

At the table Dario Barbone and Renato Sardo set up outside their Jack London Square shop on Sundays, during the farmers' market, they spoon bowls of mac and cheese ($3 for a small; $5 for a large) made with Baia's durum wheat nutshells (their name for orecchiette).

You'd think a company run by two Italians and specializing in distinctive pasta shapes would featurea dish that alluded to la cucina della nonna or referenced Italian relations.

But Baia wants to appeal to our primal love for pasta, or simply remind us that the first word in macaroni and cheese isn't "cheese."

Don't get us wrong: There's still cheese. The cooks start by stirring cheddar, dry jack and Parmigiano-Reggiano into melted butter, then incorporate eggs for extra body. They also pour in just enough milk to thin the sauce to the consistency of melted chocolate; it clings to the pasta like tourists to a stunning view.

The nutshells ($6 a pound if you buy it in the shop) are sturdy enough to withstand the glorious onslaught of creaminess. And like all of Baia's pastas, the honest flavor of wheat commands your attention.

Cheddar Bunnies, begone.

Baia Pasta, 431 Water St. (at Broadway), Oakland; 510-336-6044 or