The Kindness of Strangers

When Mark and I bought our first home - an 1806 Cape in Kittery, Maine - our realtor brought a tray of goodies to welcome us our first night: champagne, cheese, bread, and a tin of smoked oysters.

When we opened the tin of oysters, we found a pearl. A tiny, misshapen pearl was there waiting for us, welcoming us, and it adorned out mantle until one day, during dusting, it must have ricocheted unnoticed into a crack in the old wide floorboards. Sad to have it disappear, but it is a wonderful memory that we will cherish.

Photo courtesy of The Roosevelt Hotel
When we were in New Orleans in November, one night we arrived an hour early for our table at Domenica, in The Roosevelt Hotel, with plans for a drink at the Sazerac Bar. As we often found, it was packed so we opted to have a cocktail and nibble in the Fountain Lounge, situated next door off the main lobby of the hotel.

It looked newish to us, but it turns out there is a great history there. "The Fountain Loungeā€ opened in 1938 under the direction of then-hotel owner Seymour Weiss...[it] was a place where the hip, sociable and fashionable met to enjoy cocktails and small plates in an atmosphere described as 'casual and carefree as a night in Paris.'"

I am glad we decided to try the Fountain - the cocktails were quite fun. Mark had a Mumbai Twilight (Old Raj saffron infused gin, chamomile tea, thyme, cucumber, and lemon), while I had The Rain Blossom (Hangar One mandarin-blossom vodka, lime juice, simple syrup, mint, and ginger beer). As we sipped, we thoroughly enjoyed a plate of grilled oysters.

The oysters arrived, served on the half shell, bubbling with cream and cheese. They disappeared way too fast. We were tempted to order another plateful, but dinner was only minutes away.

While waiting for our drinks and oysters, we noticed that each of the tables was set with a small polished steel oyster shell that served as a salt cellar. We asked out server if we could buy one and, indeed, they were for sale. We said we would think about it over dinner next door.

Think, we did, and we decided the salt cellar would be a great souvenir from our trip. After dinner we returned to the Lounge and asked the hostess to ring one up. She contacted one of the servers and he said he'd be right back with one.

We chatted for quite a while with the hostess, mentioning our next stop was Preservation Hall for the 10:00 show, when the server finally came back quite chagrined that they could not find a single shell to sell us. The delightful hostess took my business card and promised she would call once one was found. We left, a little disappointed.

We walked onward to the concert venue - and had probably walked a good half mile down and across several streets - when we heard hurried footsteps behind us, and shouts of "Hello! Wait! Gentlemen?!" We looked over our shoulders to see our hostess and server running toward us with a bag in hand. 'They had found one!' I thought. But, no, it turned out that they simply took one from a table, wrapped it, and brought it to us! I tried to give them my credit card, and they said that it was a gift - they had been so sorry to disappoint us, and wanted us to have it.

Photo courtesy of YouTube
Had we bought it, we would have loved it. But, with this kind and beautiful gesture, it is so much more special to us. It will be a favorite souvenir forever, reminding us that pearls do come from oyster shells and that we, like Blanche DuBois, can depend on the kindness of strangers.

~ David

Grilled Oysters

4 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
a pinch of salt
freshly ground white pepper
6 oysters, shucked and on the half shell, liquor drained

Preheat a covered grill - wood, charcoal or gas - to high heat.

Mix cheese, cream, salt and pepper, until a thick paste forms. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling on each oyster. Don't worry that it sits on top of the oyster - it will melt down on the grill. Places oyster shells directly on the grill, close the top and let grill/roast for 3-5 minutes, or until cheesy topping is bubbling and golden brown.
These can also be prepared under the broiler.

Makes 6; can easily be doubled.

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