Convivio, Convivio.... how do I describe the dining experience you provided me with? In a word terrific. The only regret I had was that a few of my great friends couldn't make it to share the meal with me.
Right after work last night I took the train to Grand Central, embarked onto 42nd street and starting heading east towards the "hidden gem" known as Convivio. And what a hidden gem it truly is. I had read that many people founf it difficult to find and I had just a bit of trouble but managed to make it. As I passed 2nd avenue and approached 1st avenue I looked up and saw another street above me ..an overpass. Immediately I thought Convivio must be up there. But how would I GET up there? Well, as I made it closer there were two flights on cobblestone stairs awaiting me, so not really knowing if this was correct I took a stab and went up the stairs. To my delight as soon as I got to the top I was greeted by an awning "CONVIVIO". It was like the restaurant was just dropped there waiting for me. And boy was I ready to enter. Right away I thought ... what a cool way to start off the experience. A little adventure but I made it and yes it is quite hidden but the neighborhood is really cool.
Ok, now on to what I came for the dining experience. I arrived promptly on time for my reservation and was immediately shown to my table. The hostess gave me a very nice seat in a booth along the wall right in the middle of the restaurant which was really nice. So often I find that many restaurants treat solo diners as second class citizens and just give you whatever leftover tables they have. But not here. No less than 30 seconds after I settled in, the waiter came over with the menu and started explaining the whole Convivio deal about how their menu works. Of course, I knew I was doing the prix fixe but I just nodded politely and waited until he was finished with his spiel. When he was finished, I said "I am doing the four course" to which he was delighted. He started to walk away as if to give me time to decide but I alerted him that I was ready. As I started to rattle off my selections (quaglia, malloreddus, antra and oh yes a side of pecorino potatoes please!) I could see his eyebrows raising up and down seemingly impressed. After I was done he said " Wow, you did an excellent job selecting your courses and you will definitely get a great sense of our menu: with these dishes".
Again, another minute or so may have passed before the "bread dude" as I like to call him came by. This was also very impressive. How many times have you gone to a restaurant, ordered, and the bread guy doesnt come until 15 minutes later, basically at the same time your appetizers arrive? Well not the case here. The bread hits the table immediately and Convivio's pace is like a well oiled machine. I was presented 3 choices and selected the olive and focaccia. They provide you with a quality olive oil but I like butter with my bread and they brought it without any qualms. The breads were fine if nothing special. But I didn't care about the bread. I was awaiting my food.
After nibbling on some bread and taking in the atmosphere, the first course came.
1st course- Quaglia with radiccihio, prosciutto, mushrooms, apple, and vin cotto. Many reviews had this as a signature dish and I was excited to try it never having quail before. The quail came with two legs and the thigh attached to the leg. The thigh portion was wrapped in salty prosciutto and they were set atop grilled radicchio, mushrooms, and apple accompanied by a balsamic type of sauce. The portion was very generous and just right for an appetizer. I cut a piece of the quail and combined in with a little radicchio, mushroom, apple, and dipped it in the sauce. Magnicifico! When together, all of the elements of this dish complemented each other wonderfully. Saltines from the prosciutto and balsamic, earthiness of the mushrooms and radicchio, meatiness of the qual, and then the sweetness right at the end from the apple made a pretty terrific bite. Definitely a good choice for my first course.
2nd course- Malloreddus sardinian saffron gnocchetti, crab, sea urchin. Now this is the one that I had been reading about and hearing about for quite some time. I was really looking forward to trying this one and again another signature Michael White dish. And again I was looking forward to trying sea urchin for the first time. The portion again was just right, since I had ordered the four course. As it was placed in front of me I sat a good 20 seconds studying it and trying to see where to attack first. The gnocchetti contained a generous amount of large chunks of crab and were topped with crunchy breadcumbs that appeared perfectly browned on top. So, I went for the spot that looked the crunchiest, got some gnocchi and a nice amount of crab on my fork and went in for it. Very good. The gnocchetti were cooked perfect al dente, the crab was large sweet fresh, the safforn based tomato flavored sauce added a nice slightly spicy kick, and the crunchy breadcrumbs provided a nice textural contrast. Overall, it was a really tasty dish, however not a total mindblower. The thing that trouble me was I didn't taste anything different.. like sea urchin. I mean I had never had it before so I figured maybe it would stick out and I'd say ahhhh there it is. But not once did I say "Hmm I am tasting something new here". Maybe it is just a subtle flavor but I have heard others say the same about this dish. Still quite delicious and I managed to eat my way through most of this one.
Third Course- Anatra crispy duck breast, swiss chard alla romana squash, vin santo. This was the one course that was giving me trouble when I was trying to decide berforehand what to order. I was considering trying a fish dish or perhaps the pork chop. Knowing that I will eventually be going to Marea (to try their fish) and Alto (to try their veal chop), I changed my mind. As a lover of duck I decided this was the way to go. The duck was the correct choice and it was totally outrageous! One of the best preparations of duck I have encountered. 4 generous chunky slices of it. The duck was cooked perfectly to my rare request and the skin was so crispy and stuck to the breast nicely. So many times kitchens cannot deliver on both of these. Either the duck has a crisp skin but it overcooked or it is rare but the skin is just a clump of fat. Not here. This was pretty flawless. I'd say it was definitely better than the duck I had at Gramercy tavern and the Modern Bar Room. Right on par with Babbo, but still slightly below EMP (which let's face it isn't anything to be ashamed of). The side accompaniments were great also. Swiss chard and squash were topped with pignoli nuts which isn't in the description. This was a real treat and I love pignoli nuts and they added the wonderful crunch I crave. When putting all of these flavors together in one fork full you get a truly harmonious masterpiece of flavors. This WAS a mindblower for me. I saw some other entrees at other tables like the pork chop (huge), fish, and the lady next to me had the strip steak which to my surprise was bone-in and cooked to a nice rare inside. These all looked good as well and I am sure they were. Good to keep in mind on the next visit.
Side of Pecorino Potatoes- At this point my fingers are starting to hurt so I am going to try to keep this simple. These are probably, maybe, possibly the BEST potato dish I have ever tasted in my entire life. You are presented with about 20 silver dollar sized circles of crispy fried potato goodness.. or should I say greatness. They are unbelievably crispy golden brown on the outside, doused with tons of pecorino cheese that stuck on to the crust for dear life, giving way to pillowy velvet potato innardz. Masterpiece! Crispy potatoes, pecorino romano cheese? Ummmm ok how can you go wrong.. yeah you cannot lol. As one of my great friends says "perfection personified". They serve it with a wedge of lemon just in case u need even more flavor but that's just for garnish. This is like the only time in my life I had a potato and did not feel the need to request ketchup. For me that is saying a tremendous amount.. As a final test, I made sure to try to go for some on the top and some on the bottom just to see if the consistency was there throughout and it certainly was. A MUST order for everyone. Believe me the best $8 you will ever spend. Somehow I had the willpower to only eat about half so I was very proud of myself. But when they came to clear my plates I made sure to alert them "CAN YOU PLEASE WRAP UP MY POTATOES!". Ok so that wasn;t as short and sweet as originally planned but hey once I start typing about those bad boys I couldn't resist going on n on about them.
Dessert- Affogato "super punch" amaro gelato, freshly brewed espresso. As sad as I was to see the duck entree end as I devoured every last delicious morsel of the dish, I was also really looking forward to dessert. For me, no meal is complete without dessert and I am always like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the sweet stuff (no pun intended). As the server presented me the menu, I glanced and immediately said "Affogato". Again, he assured me this was the right choice exclaiming "This really is our BEST dessert". I had never had affogato before either so once again the anticipation had me excited. 10 minutes later here it was approaching. The presentation was quite wonderful. You get two and a half generous scoops of gelato, topped with vanilla whipped cream, and then the finishing touch is of course the freshly brewed espresso poured on top by the server tableside... Belissimo. I hate when you order ice cream or gelati and they give you a thimble on a plate. If I order gelati give me gelati! And Conivivio delivered.. BIGTIME. After the server finished puring the espresso into this tall 12 inch glass, I sat and admired it for a good 30 seconds, letting the espresso sink all the way down to the very bottom. They provide you with one of those cool lung spoons so you can get alllllll the way down to the bottom of the glass right away. So at this point I grabbed the spoon, and started digging in all the way to the bottom making sure I got every single element onto the fork. Beginning with the vanilla whipped cream, vanilla gelato flavored with the Italian liquer amaro, and lastly the espresso. Oh.. my.. God. This was truly truly truly truly incredible. I did not have to sample any of the other desserts to affirm the waiter's description of the affogato as "the best on the menu". The gelati was incredibly creamy and sweet, the espresso added in that perfect kick, and wow the vanilla whipped cream had real specks of vanilla in it and quite possibly may be the best whipped cream I have ever put in my mouth sans Peter Luger (nothing will ever beat the schlag baby! hahaaaaa). Best ice cream float ever. The most impressive thing was how the warm espresso didn't melt the whole thing into a liquid mess. The gelato was miraculously able to hold its consistency. This thing was so fantastic and I probably should have savored it a bit more but I couldn't eat it fast enough. I think it was literally gone in 3 minutes flat. So good that I actually considered ordering another one... but no I didn't. This was a great way to end off the meal and I suggest that everyone get this as it is a must.
Overall, Convivio delivered on all counts. Here are the memorable points (besides the exquisite food obviously) for me and none should go unnoticed:
1. Waiter came immediately with the menu
2. Bread hit the table immediately
3. Water was refilled and table cleared after every course
4. Every member of the staff was incredibly friendly,, I had 4 people attending me whole time
5. Not once did I feel rushed or treated any differently being a solo diner.
in conclusion, service was impeccable, food was delectable, atmosphere enchanting, and for the price I think it may be the best bargain in the city. 4 great courses in generous portions for just $62? Really? Accompany that with quite possibly the best potato side ever and you got yourself one stellar meal. I left Convivio perfectly sated and not overly stuffed just how I like it. Kudos to you Convivio. Pound for pound there are few meals I can honestly say I enjoyed more. And yes I have been to several of the most high profile restaurants our great New York City has to offer. I will be back again without any doubt.