There are two types of people in the world…those who panic at the thought of dining out alone and those who embrace it as hallowed ground. I fall into the latter group.
“How many in your party?”
That’s a major fork in the road when it comes to hospitality. Fine restaurants (not necessary fine dining) will treat solitary diners with a kind of warmth bordering on reverence not always expended upon larger parties. This is perhaps because solitary diners most resemble weary travelers in need of nourishment. Sometimes they are weary. Other times they’re just following their fancy.
I remember taking a small table next to the window at the corner of Prince and Sullivan in Greenwich Village. It was late afternoon and the place was mostly empty. I ordered a beer and a plate of fried oyster sliders — crunchy, briny, piping hot, deeply satisfying. At the time I was reading Melville’s The Confidence Man, about the myriad ways in which men and women aboard a transatlantic ship display, feign, and utterly lack confidence. The waiter unhurriedly checked-in from time to time. Nothing magical happened.
FRIED OYSTER SLIDERS with GRIBICHE MAYO
adapted from Andrew Carmellini’s recipe at The Dutch, NYC
for 8 sliders:
8 brioche slider buns or soft potato rolls, warmed*
1 bundle of fresh watercress (iceberg, romaine, spinach all work)
8 large fresh oysters, such as Wellfleets, shucked
2 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
canola oil for frying
for the gribiche mayo:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3-4 tablespoons cup grainy mustard
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
6 cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt
Combine all the ingredients for the gribiche mayo and chill. Combine the cornmeal, salt, paprika, and cayenne in a bow. Heat an inch and a half of oil in a deep, heavy saucepan or pot on medium/high flame until it is 350 degrees. Coat the oysters in the cornmeal mixture and flash fry them in the oil for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until they are just cooked through. Transfer the fried oysters to a paper towel or wire rack to drain. Sprinkle them with salt immediately. To serve, place a few watercress leaves on the bottom bun and gribiche mayo on the top with the fried oyster in between. Serve immediately.
*I used soft potato rolls which I brushed with an eggwash and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds to mimic the brioche slider bun used at The Dutch. Popped them in the oven for a few minutes to warm.