Table for One

Why Fettuccine Alfredo Is the Best Solo Supper

A creamy, dreamy pasta dinner for one.

by:
January 18, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


My barometer for a good restaurant has always been: How do they treat solo diners? I.e. me, when I walk in alone and gesture to the host with my index finger, "One."

In a bad restaurant, the host may direct me to the bar, or if I do get a table (because I request it specifically), the waiter will ignore me for most of the night to cater to higher-value parties. Maybe there's a passive-aggressive eye roll when I say no to appetizers and dessert, an itching sense that I'm a waste of the restaurant's time and space (and money) because I'm taking up a whole table, just for me. Sometimes it's even built into the restaurant's online reservation system:

Rejection for one. Photo by Me

Now, I don't mean to throw Restaurant A under the bus; it's one of my favorite neighborhood Italian gems. The hosts and waiters there are always the most gracious to me when I walk in without a reservation and request a table for one. They even make me fettuccine Alfredo, even though it's not on the menu (more on that later). But I do think it's significant and telling of a restaurant's business model when their online client doesn't let you reserve a table for yourself. Maybe it's just math and I'm overly sensitive. Or maybe it's because, for me, part of the joy of making a reservation at all is that I'm setting aside both time (a future meal) and space (a literal, physical table) to treat myself to one of life's few pleasures: dinner.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Eric, you had me at Fetuccini Alfredo and then some more as I read your beautifully written column. I have been enjoying the pleasure of my own company dining aline for years. What’s a happily single gal to do? I find dinning aline provides a beautiful opportunity for self-reflection, and for gently admiring and conjuring up wishes and inspiration when I get a chance to onserve other dinners and their companions. I love dining alone, I love overtipping if only because I appreciate the solicitude of waiters to make my stay wonderfully pleasant. Bless those ports in the storm which cater to the solo guest trying to find comfort and perhaps the warmth of human interaction, especially on days when being a twosome may bring joy. Alas, not everyone gets to share their lives with someone else, but we all get to live it on our own. It’s good to know some know we’re in this together and welcome you with open arms. Love your writing. ”
— Mischa_nyc
Comment

Why shouldn't I get to partake in that, like everyone else, just because I don't always have a date?

Maybe this is why I tend to overtip when it's just me, because I don't want that waiter to ever underestimate the next solo diner's tab. As if my tipping well will teach them to continue treating loners as well as they treat eight-person tables. My friend Irene and I were discussing this the other night, when a bartender at Restaurant B rolled his eyes at us when we said we had already eaten and were just there for wine, not dinner. I wanted to leave a big tip to show him that small parties can be worth being nice to. But Irene said, "Trust me, he will not think that."

Restaurant C, my absolute favorite Italian restaurant in New York City, doesn't take reservations for one either (parties must be four or more). But—but!—even on their busiest nights (like at 7 p.m. on a Friday), I can walk in and the maître d', as flustered as he is trying to seat the hordes of people filing into the tiny entrance, will always nod at me and wink from across the room, as if he's saying, "I got you." He'll pull out a tiny table from the back, set it by the bathroom (the only space available in the crowded restaurant) with flowers, a place setting, and fresh focaccia with olive oil. One folding chair. I'm always so grateful to him that, even in his crowded restaurant full of tables for two, and four, and eight, he'll make it a priority to create this special table just for me.

I always wonder what happens to this last-minute table for one after I leave the restaurant. Does the maître d' fold it back up to free up that necessary walkway between the kitchen and the bathroom? Does he seat other solo diners who come in later? Are there even other solo diners who come in later, into this always-bustling family restaurant where everyone's happy and no one is ever alone in the world? Come to think of it, I don't think I've seen anyone other than myself eating here alone. James Beard's house is a block away; maybe he came in by himself back in the day?

Somehow I have never minded dining alone. Instead, I find it is a rare opportunity for relaxing and collecting my senses, and I have always made each occasion something of a ceremony.
James Beard, Delights and Prejudices

Wherever I am, there's one dish I like to order on these nights when I'm crawling to an Italian restaurant, in search of water and wine and starchy sustenance: fettuccine Alfredo.

I do my best to feign humility when I ask, though: "I know it's not on the menu, but..." I bite my lip and try to look as small and as cute as possible (which is difficult when you're not cute to begin with, and already a carafe of house red in). The waiters at Restaurant C will laugh at me and say, "Oh, you. We both know we don't do Italian-American here." To which I'll be thinking (but won't say out loud), "Actually, fettuccine Alfredo, though made popular in America by the cultural maelstrom that is Olive Garden, is said to have come from Alfredo di Lelio in Rome." But at Restaurant B, they'll say, "Of course," and bring out a gorgeously creamy plate of fresh, house-made fettuccine Alfredo you can envelop your face and soul into.


How to Make Fettuccine Alfredo

Contrary to popular belief, fettuccine Alfredo—the original, at least—isn't meant to have cream. It's just: fettuccine, butter, and cheese, all tossed together with the pasta's starchy cooking liquid to create a sauce that looks and tastes very close to heavy cream. At his restaurants in Rome, Alfredo would do this tableside as a sort of ceremony for the guests. The ultimate ceremony of cooking and eating, as I see it.

Mise en place.

My version below is a scaled-down version of this, a ceremony for one, which I believe is the absolute best way to make pasta. I have this theory that when you're working with a smaller portion of anything you're cooking, the food turns out better because you're able to pay more attention to the quality of it. Because this pasta recipe has so few ingredients, the trick to successfully making it lies really in its technique: vigorously stirring the pasta into the sauce, creating an emulsion, which is easier to get right when you're dealing with a single serving of fettuccine.

With that said, I find that recipes are significantly easier to scale up than they are to scale down, so if you have more mouths to feed than your own, feel free to multiply the ingredient amounts by two, three, four, etc.

Butter, Parm, and starchy water are all you need for a creamy sauce.
Fettuccine Alfredo for one, at its glossiest.
  • Before draining your fresh (or dried) pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water. This is the base of your Alfredo sauce, an essential ingredient in this recipe.
  • In the same pot over medium heat, sauté a thinly sliced shallot (the perfect onion for one) in a tablespoon of butter. Though this is the only non-traditional ingredient in fettuccine Alfredo, it's something Restaurant C does, and I adore the subtle alliumic hit the single shallot lends the rest of the dish. Don't worry, it's not enough to make the pasta onion-y, but it helps to add a second note to something that can be otherwise a little boring.
  • Add 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water, bring to a simmer, then stir in the butter, followed by the cheese, until both are fully incorporated. It's important to add the second tablespoon of butter and the cheese slowly to the starchy liquid, otherwise your sauce will break and taste greasy at the end. In an initial test of this recipe, I added all of the butter in the second step, then the water, and the resultant sauce was a little too oily for my taste.
  • Add the pasta to the sauce and continue cooking, stirring constantly and incorporating more of the water as needed to coat the noodles sufficiently. The trick here is to amalgamate the pasta, butter, cheese, and starchy water until it comes together into a creamy emulsion. If you fear you have too much liquid, don't worry—keep cooking until the sauce thickens and the pasta is glossy-slick.

Do you love fettuccine Alfredo, too? Let us know in the comments below.

47 Comments

Bridget February 17, 2019
Mmm dinner tonight, thank you. <br /><br />On a recent solo adventure in Buenos Aires, I was turned away from parilla after parilla for being a solo diner. I kept walking, optimistic the next restaurant would have me. Finally, at the third restaurant, a trio of porteños overheard the hostess turning me away and invited me to dine with them. The most wonderful meal—in mostly broken English and Spanish—ensued and the night was saved!
 
Barbara January 25, 2019
Mmmm. Can’t wait to try this. (Too bad fresh pasta is not more readily available. Ah, well...) I love all your articles and columns. Cooking solo or for a group—there’s such joy in both. Any chance you could republish the trout with sweet potato and shiitake en papillote from your blog? Cannot find it when Si search.
 
Susanna January 25, 2019
Thank you for this! And I am going to try restaurant C soon. I’ve neber been so I doubt they’ll create the special table for me...
 
batbean January 25, 2019
Yes, I have found my people!! I.e. those who categorize their produce as sized “for one”. <br /><br />My personal favorite for an at-home solo dinner is pasta carbonara, straight out of the serving bowl.
 
Paolo C. January 22, 2019
HISTORY OF ALFREDO DI LELIO CREATOR IN 1908 OF “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), NOW SERVED BY HIS NEPHEW INES DI LELIO, AT THE RESTAURANT “IL VERO ALFREDO” – “ALFREDO DI ROMA” IN ROME, PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE 30<br /> <br />With reference to your article I have the pleasure to tell you the history of my grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”) in 1908 in the “trattoria” run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). This “trattoria” of Piazza Rosa has become the “birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.<br />More specifically, as is well known to many people who love the “fettuccine all’Alfredo", this famous dish in the world was invented by Alfredo Di Lelio concerned about the lack of appetite of his wife Ines, who was pregnant with my father Armando (born February 26, 1908). <br />Alfredo di Lelio opened his restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome and in 1943, during the war, he sold the restaurant to others outside his family.<br />In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 "Il Vero Alfredo" (“Alfredo di Roma”), whose fame in the world has been strengthened by his nephew Alfredo and that now managed by me, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).<br />See the website of “Il Vero Alfredo” (also about franchising news). <br />I must clarify that other restaurants "Alfredo" in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand "Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma". <br />I inform you that the restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo –Alfredo di Roma” is in the registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence” of the City of Rome Capitale.<br />Best regards Ines Di Lelio <br /><br />IN ITALIANO<br /><br />STORIA DI ALFREDO DI LELIO, CREATORE DELLE “FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO” (“FETTUCCINE ALFREDO”), E DELLA SUA TRADIZIONE FAMILIARE PRESSO IL RISTORANTE “IL VERO ALFREDO” (“ALFREDO DI ROMA”) IN PIAZZA AUGUSTO IMPERATORE A ROMA <br /><br />Con riferimento al Vostro articolo ho il piacere di raccontarVi la storia di mio nonno Alfredo Di Lelio, inventore delle note "fettuccine all'Alfredo" (“Fettuccine Alfredo”).<br />Alfredo Di Lelio, nato nel settembre del 1883 a Roma in Vicolo di Santa Maria in Trastevere, cominciò a lavorare fin da ragazzo nella piccola trattoria aperta da sua madre Angelina in Piazza Rosa, un piccolo slargo (scomparso intorno al 1910) che esisteva prima della costruzione della Galleria Colonna (ora Galleria Sordi).<br />Il 1908 fu un anno indimenticabile per Alfredo Di Lelio: nacque, infatti, suo figlio Armando e videro contemporaneamente la luce in tale trattoria di Piazza Rosa le sue “fettuccine”, divenute poi famose in tutto il mondo. Questa trattoria è “the birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.<br />Alfredo Di Lelio inventò le sue “fettuccine” per dare un ricostituente naturale, a base di burro e parmigiano, a sua moglie (e mia nonna) Ines, prostrata in seguito al parto del suo primogenito (mio padre Armando). Il piatto delle “fettuccine” fu un successo familiare prima ancora di diventare il piatto che rese noto e popolare Alfredo Di Lelio, personaggio con “i baffi all’Umberto” ed i calli alle mani a forza di mischiare le sue “fettuccine” davanti ai clienti sempre più numerosi.<br />Nel 1914, a seguito della chiusura di detta trattoria per la scomparsa di Piazza Rosa dovuta alla costruzione della Galleria Colonna, Alfredo Di Lelio decise di aprire a Roma il suo ristorante “Alfredo” che gestì fino al 1943, per poi cedere l’attività a terzi estranei alla sua famiglia. <br />Ma l’assenza dalla scena gastronomica di Alfredo Di Lelio fu del tutto transitoria. Infatti nel 1950 riprese il controllo della sua tradizione familiare ed aprì, insieme al figlio Armando, il ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” (noto all’estero anche come “Alfredo di Roma”) in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 (cfr. il sito web di Il Vero Alfredo).<br />Con l’avvio del nuovo ristorante Alfredo Di Lelio ottenne un forte successo di pubblico e di clienti negli anni della “dolce vita”. Successo, che, tuttora, richiama nel ristorante un flusso continuo di turisti da ogni parte del mondo per assaggiare le famose “fettuccine all’Alfredo” al doppio burro da me servite, con l’impegno di continuare nel tempo la tradizione familiare dei miei cari maestri, nonno Alfredo, mio padre Armando e mio fratello Alfredo. In particolare le fettuccine sono servite ai clienti con 2 “posate d’oro”: una forchetta ed un cucchiaio d’oro regalati nel 1927 ad Alfredo dai due noti attori americani M. Pickford e D. Fairbanks (in segno di gratitudine per l’ospitalità).<br />Desidero precisare che altri ristoranti “Alfredo” a Roma non appartengono e sono fuori dal mio brand di famiglia.<br />Vi informo che il Ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” è presente nell’Albo dei “Negozi Storici di Eccellenza – sezione Attività Storiche di Eccellenza” del Comune di Roma Capitale.<br />Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti<br />Ines Di Lelio<br />
 
Judith M. January 21, 2019
The restaurant has to pay Open Table a fixed amount. They may not be able to afford an online reservation for one.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 21, 2019
Thanks, Judith; good to know. For the record, neither of these restaurants uses Open Table, but I’m sure the situation is similar.<br />
 
Catherine O. February 3, 2019
Then there's a monthly fee of $199. Add another $99 a month onto that if you want to be featured in OpenTable's dining guide. It's 25 cents for every reservation booked from the restaurant's website, and $1 for every reservation that comes directly from OpenTable or partner sites like Yelp.May 1, 2014<br />UPDATED: As Fees Become Problematic, Restaurants Move Away ...<br />https://www.houstonpress.com/.../updated-as-fees-become-problematic-restaurants-move..
 
Luise E. January 21, 2019
Fabulous column from every point of view. And an inspiration! As I glide into my late 70s, it's time to try a new adventure. Looking forward to your scallop recipe. Many thanks.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 21, 2019
Luise, what a delight; thanks for the words. The pressure's on! Will strive to get this scallop recipe just right and very delicious...
 
Joyce A. January 20, 2019
Eric Kim, you're my hero. I love dining alone and cooking at home for myself. I've had some maddening experiences in restaurants, so your articles are refreshing!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Glad you're here, Joyce.
 
Judith B. January 20, 2019
THANK YOU greatly for this recipe but, even more, for this column.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Judith! Thank you for reading.
 
Judith B. January 21, 2019
I'd forgotten that this is how I used to make pasta except for two things: 1. Your addition of the starchy water and mixing in things very slowly helps greatly, and 2. I add a tsp or two of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (squeezed part of half a lemon), which I think adds a good but subtle spark, too.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 21, 2019
Mm, I see that. Lemon zest would taste very nice as well.
 
Rose January 20, 2019
Ooh this sounds so delicious!! I know what I'll be making after my next grocery run :) And, side note, I'm super excited to have found this series—it's nice to have recipes specifically for a single diner! (you're so right that it's way harder to scale recipes down than up)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Rose, so glad you've found it too. Welcome.
 
batbean January 25, 2019
So true on the scaling. I never want to try to find 1/4 of a whole egg again... scramble it first, I suppose?
 
Mark January 20, 2019
I always enjoy your editorials and posts. And this recipe sounds amazing, I will definitely try this with capers as @Michele H suggested, i think the salty and texture mixed with some pepper would work amazingly. <br />Can't wait to try! <br />Also - You are very cute, with or with out a carafe of house red, maybe try a South Aussie Shiraz (Wynns estate is my personal fav')
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Mark, thanks for the wine rec! And for the kind words.
 
Mischa_nyc January 20, 2019
Eric, you had me at Fetuccini Alfredo and then some more as I read your beautifully written column. I have been enjoying the pleasure of my own company dining aline for years. What’s a happily single gal to do? I find dinning aline provides a beautiful opportunity for self-reflection, and for gently admiring and conjuring up wishes and inspiration when I get a chance to onserve other dinners and their companions. <br />I love dining alone, I love overtipping if only because I appreciate the solicitude of waiters to make my stay wonderfully pleasant. Bless those ports in the storm which cater to the solo guest trying to find comfort and perhaps the warmth of human interaction, especially on days when being a twosome may bring joy. Alas, not everyone gets to share their lives with someone else, but we all get to live it on our own. It’s good to know some know we’re in this together and welcome you with open arms.<br /> Love your writing.<br />
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Thank you for this lovely comment. Bless those ports in the storm, indeed.
 
witloof January 19, 2019
Oh, man. If the James Beard House is a block away from your favorite Italian restaurant, that means it's around the corner from my office! I'm going to have to do a little detective work and figure out where it is. <br /><br />Last summer in Paris, a restaurant I had visited the previous year with my friends who live down the block solved their unwanted lone female diner problem quite handily by ignoring me for 30 minutes {there were only two other tables in the room, so overly busy staff was not the problem}. I finally got the hint and left.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
It’s on 13th between 5th and 6th. :)
 
Ttrockwood January 20, 2019
And i bet it starts with a “Da” ....! <br />I’ve never gone there solo myself but certainly will now :))
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 20, 2019
Ha! Ttrockwood, you always finish my...
 
Tiffany January 19, 2019
Eric, you are my favorite thing to happen to Food52. Thanks for helping me to feel less alone. 💗
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
Tiffany, you have my heart. Thank you for this comment.
 
Linda B. January 19, 2019
You are wrong. <br />You ARE cute. <br />Thanks for this column <br />I love it and can relate<br />To cooking for only myself. <br />A favorite is truffle grilled cheese and tomato soup. <br />
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is the best.
 
Michele H. January 19, 2019
Grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on it. Heaven!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
Mmm.
 
C H. January 18, 2019
While I like the dish, and love dining solo...or many other things (movie, coffee) I think the dish isn’t really “Italian” I recently lived in Italy for work, and asked for it on several occasions to be met with blank stares, they’d never heard of it, so maybe it’s a regional dish to Rome? I was in Northern part of Italy
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
You may be right! Or maybe it’s just home food and not restaurant food?
 
Michele H. January 18, 2019
To this I add capers. Wonderful contrast of textures and tastes.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
Great idea.
 
Alex R. January 18, 2019
Ok, I just made this after not-the-best-day and it was exactly what you need: A perfectly single portion of things anyone is bound to have on hand. I added a bit of roast chicken (mostly to use it up) and am currently languishing in a food coma. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
That makes me so happy. Continuing taking care of yourself this weekend, Alex.
 
Whiteantlers January 18, 2019
For most of my adult life, I was not in the habit of going out to happy hour or dinner alone. Given that I was almost always in a relationship, dining out was invariably with the woman in my life as companion. When I moved back home to the East coast 5 years ago and discovered that my birth city had become a treasure trove of wonderful places to eat, I girded my loins for lots solo meals in restaurants. *gulp*<br /><br />I often encountered the same things that you mention, Eric-not being able to make an online reservation for one, being asked, when I was seated, when the other party was joining me, having the host/hostess look at me pityingly or sneeringly and saying "Only one?!" and so on. I stopped patronizing places that treated a female singleton like a pariah and found a plethora of places that treated me with respect. And when I found one of those places, I kept going back.<br /><br />One new Indian/fusion restaurant really won my heart. They do a fantastic happy hour 7 days a week and when I go and sit at the bar with a book or The New Yorker, the bartenders always dote on me and I tip them extremely well as a result. This past NYE, I went to this very place for an early, prix fixe meal. Got dressed to the nines, was given a wonderful table, enjoyed a four course meal (including lobster) and got great service and check ins from staff and the manager all evening. As I was finishing dessert, my server came over and said she thought it was fantastic that I took myself out for NYE. I thanked her and said I take myself out often because I enjoy the excellent company. We both had a nice laugh about that. <br /><br />Your friend is correct about tipping. As a singleton, you do not need to prove anything to anyone or impress a jaded 'tender/server. Eff 'em if they think the only valuable diners are a party of two. I'm finding solo public dining addictive!<br /><br />I can't eat dairy or wheat so no Alfredo for one for me, but when I next make a favorite singleton meal for myself, like eggroll in a bowl, seared scallops in lemon/ghee sauce or all beef chili, I am going to toast you with every bite. : )<br /><br />Thank you again for shining a positive light on very enjoyable single life-in and out of the kitchen.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 19, 2019
Hello friend,<br />I always look forward to your responses to the column. Hm, what I want to say first is: The waiters probably dote on you b/c you’re kind, sociable, and infectious. I’ve always felt that you get back what you give. I love that you treat yourself on NYE; that’s what I do on Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day (one V-Day I wore a red tie and everything and treated myself to Chicago on Broadway; I still remember the salmon dinner I made for myself that night). And funny you should mention scallops because I have a recipe for them coming up real soon. ;)<br />Yours,<br />E<br /><br />
 
HalfPint January 18, 2019
Love Fettuccine Alfredo. Would eat it all the time if I could, but my cholesterol would go through the roof, not to mention weight. All is good in moderation and I find that a small plate of FA is all I need :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. January 18, 2019
Same! I can never finish the entire plate at restaurants, which is why I love making a single serving (about 4 ounces) for myself at home.