Convivio, NYC

December 14, 2009

Convivio has a Michelin star, three stars in the New York Times and is in the second highest tier for Italian restaurants in the 2010 NYC Zagat. We were looking forward to a good meal when Linda and I went for dinner with John and Kathy on December 8, 2009.

The entryway in NYC’s Tudor Village area gives the impression of old charm, but the inside is glossy modern.

We were seated at a table for four in the passageway between the bar and the main dining room. We looked at the large awkward menus and the extensive wine list, mostly southern Italian. We ordered the first of two bottles of 2008 Aragosta Vermentino di Sardegna and a bottle of 2005 Barbaresco from the charming cooperative there, where Linda and I have been several times to buy their wine and their terrific truffled salami.

Except for Kathy, we took the menu’s recommendation of the $62 prix fixe. One can choose an antipasto, a pasta, a fish or meat and a dessert from the menu. We were told that the portions were slightly smaller than those for à la carte orders, but they seemed ample to us.

Kathy started with
sliced yellowtail, olivada, pistachio, scallions

She said it was excellent.

Linda and John’s antipasto was
grilled quail, pancetta, radicchio, figs, mushrooms

They thought it was very good. The fresh black figs were a nice touch.

Mine was
grilled octopus, chickpea panissa, olives, red peppers

The octopus was beautifully charred. It went well, both in flavor and texture, with the soft chickpea flour round underneath. 

Kathy went on to a “sfizio,” a little whimsy from the top of the menu.
Cime di Rape
broccoli rabe, garlic, chilies

She likes spicy food and got it here.

Linda’s pasta was
sardinian saffron gnocchetti, crab, sea urchin

She wrote: “The saffron gnocchietti were light and very good. The crab, sea urchin and tomato sauce combined created an excellent unusual-for-New-York dish.”

John and I had
fresh cut spaghetti, clams, mussels, shrimp
spigarelli greens, chili, mollica

The fresh spaghetti absorbed the good seafood broth. The mussels and shrimp were not overcooked. The greens from a type of broccoli were barely evident. The garlic-toasted breadcrumbs (molliche) on top were a very nice touch. Just under them you can see the whole red little chili which added a little heat; it was all I left in the bowl.

Kathy went on to the
Speciale del Giorno
pan seared bream, celery root puree, sunchokes
puntarelle, black truffle vinaigrette

She kept proclaiming that it was excellent. It was surprising to see puntarelle on the menu; the green leaves are the part usually discarded.
Linda’s Secondo was
crispy long island duck breast, swiss chard alla romana
spaghetti squash, vin santo

She wrote: “The vin santo sauce and vegetables combined wonderfully with the crispy-skinned, tender and flavorful slices of duck breast. Bravo.”

John and I had the
Scottadito di Agnello
grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole
tomato, beans

The lamb was tasty and well-grilled. The garnishes and sauces were traditional and good. The addition of molliche on top was very nice and lifted the dish beyond comfort food.

Linda’s dessert was
Panna Cotta
vanilla panna cotta, fresh local strawberries, lemon sorbet

The sorbet and strawberries were too sweet.

Kathy and John had
assortment of artisanal italian cheeses
served with toasted raisin walnut bread and fruit compote

They reported that they were very good.
My dessert was
Tartaletta di Caramelle
valhrona chocolate ganache, salted caramel, vanilla gelato

This classic combination was very well done.
The food had been very nice, good ingredients using mostly classic, uncomplicated Italian combinations. Convivio‘s website declares that  
This restaurant offers a pure translation of soulful dining—the Southern Italian way. Inspired by warm memories of Italian kitchens and the country’s unforgettable flavors—tomatoes, pancetta, sea urchin, and pesto—White’s menu travels through Italy’s Southern towns and creatively interprets revered recipes.
Well, not exactly. Pesto is totally Ligurian (northwest Italy,) as is the panissa with my octopus. You can’t make a Long Island duck breast into Southern Italian cuisine by adding some vin santo. But the ambience was not Southern Italian at all. It was 100% mid-town New York. Tables were jammed together and into aisles and passageways; the noise level was high, but not so I loud that I couldn’t hear the high-powered, Blackberry-interrupted business conversation at the table a few centimeters to my right. The decor was sleek modern. Busboys were constantly interrupting, pouring too much San Pellegrino too soon to everyone, desired or not, instead of leaving the water chilled.

We can certainly recommend Convivio if that kind of ambience is for you, as it seems to be for many people. 

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