I’ve never enjoyed eating alone in a restaurant. To me, food is meant to be enjoyed in the company of others, following a leisurely rhythm, orchestrated by the platters of dishes being passed from hand to hand. It is meant to be savored with good conversation and laughter. So the idea of eating by myself, especially in public, is as unsavory as spending the morning at the DMV.
Thankfully, this does not happen often. Call it avoidance. When I do travel solo, I often opt for room service. Dining in my room feels more celebratory, like my own secret sleepover. I know I should be out there, exploring hidden food finds that may be lurking outside my hotel room, but the appeal of eating in my robe while indulging in some television (a rare guilty pleasure) always seems to win.
I should know better. One of my favorite dishes was one that I first tasted when I decided to venture out to dinner, yes, by myself. Me, all alone, in a restaurant. I was on a trip and had tired of the room service menu, so I found myself in a quiet restaurant, where it didn’t seem so lonely to sit at a table by myself. I ordered mussels steamed in a beautiful broth of wine. As I opened each shell to release the orange morsels of sweetness, and dipped my bread into the gorgeous broth, that feeling of solitude no longer bothered me.
I enjoyed it so much, I returned the following night. I could not get enough of that steaming bowl of shellfish! It was worth the effort to dine alone. When I returned home, I could not wait to recreate the experience in my kitchen. And this time, it was even better. You see, my family was at the table.
MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE
This simple but flavorful dish is always a stunning way to start a meal and would make a wonderful appetizer. But for me, it’s all I need for an entire meal.
- 4 lbs fresh mussels
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 bayleaf
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
Rinse and scrub the mussels under running water. Discard any that are already open.
In a large pot, combine the wine, scallions, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, pepper and butter. Bring the liquid to a boil and allow the alcohol to cook off, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the mussels and cover the pot, allowing the steam to cook the mussels. Give the pot a shake periodically, or briefly open the lid to stir the mussels. The shells will open up to reveal the tender meat within. Discard any mussels that refuse to open.
When the shells are open, divide the mussels into soup bowls and ladle the broth. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
Adapted from Moules a la Marniere, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Child, Bertholle & Beck,1961).