My wife and I first went to Convivium Osteria shortly after it opened about 5 or 6 years ago. For whatever reason, we weren't wow-ed by the place -- I think it was the combination of the cash only policy and my wife's bachalau which was not as good as from her childhood -- but for whatever reason, we never felt compelled to go back.
A few weeks ago we were walking by and noticed that menu looked lovely so we vowed to give it another try. Midweek I made a reservation for 9pm and asked for a table in the wine cellar. The maitre d' warned that he could not guarantee the cellar, but said he would make a notation.
We arrived at 9 last night, and there were a few empty tables upstairs. At first it looked like he was setting a table for us upstairs (which is lovely). However, he then led us downstairs to the cellar, where we were instantly transported to the old world. It is an absolutely beautiful rustic room -- all brick and masonry walls, wooden ceiling beams, and wine bottles everywhere. A nice mix of candlelight and very subdued lighting really evokes the feeling of a rustic country house in the Mediterranean country-side. It is the type of place you see in a movie where large families are sitting around having wonderful meals with bottles and bottles of wine. I have to say, this may be the most lovely, atmospheric and romantic room I've ever been in -- it is up there with The Cliff restaurant on Barbados.
And the food and service matched the surroundings to a tee. At the start they set out some rustic crusty bread with olives in oil. The bread is very good, with a light fluffy center and a nice char-flavored crust. The olives and oil had a nice freshness that can sometimes be missed from straight olive oil.
For appetizer I had the pan-roasted quail with fig and port reduction. The quail was surprisingly meaty for such a little bird and the skin was perfectly crispy with a nice amount of pepper to add spice. The sweetness of the figs and port were nicely balanced by the bitterness of some shredded cabbage to avoid a cloying sweetness. And the whole dishes just blended well.
My wife had the artichoke which was similarly delicious. A combination of both leaves and hearts, it was very "meaty" and tender, although she thought just a tad too oily.
For mains, I had the berkshire pork tenderloin. This was wrapped in a proscuitto (or something similar), and was DELICIOUS. The pork was so tender and the proscuitto had a delicious almost bacon-y flavor. The combination reminded me of a very substantial meaty, filling bacon. Served with a nice sauce (which I am not sure of) and black pepper potatoes and asparagus.
My wife had the rack of lamb with cauliflour which was delicious. Not a hint of gaminess that can sometimes beset lamb, it was spiced very nicely and cooked with a nice crust.
We noticed a bunch of people having the ribeye for two -- which is basically just a hunk of meat, and it looked and smelled delicious.
For dessert, we had the flourless chocolate cake -- a favorite of mine, and this one did not disappoint.
I was unfamiliar with the portuguese and spanish selection on the wine list, so I enlisted the aid of the maitre d', who proved very knowledgeable. He asked our price range (a nice way to handle a potentially awkward situation), and picked a nice Quinta (?). It was as he described, pronounced tanins, with nice complexity and a bit of fruit. It went very well with our mains.
I was similarly perplexed by the dessert offerings (which include, naturally, a nice variety of ports and madeiras). I knew I wanted a port, but my wife tends to like less syrupy-sweet dessert wines. He brought over two different choices for us to taste -- a madeira and a spanish red that I'd not heard of before (Santangela or Santagrina or something similar). He gave us a nice taste of each, both were quite nice and she settled on the latter.
We finished up with cappucino for her and tea for me. When I asked if they had honey for my tea, the Maitre D' actually went across the street to the bodega and bought a container of honey! Talk about service!
And speaking of service, it was truly wonderful. We were waited on by a friendly italian gentlemen, and were also looked after by the aforementioned maitre d' (I was remiss in not getting their names -- next time). They were exceptionally accommodating and friendly without being intrusive. Even when a large party was seated in a nearby table, the service level did not diminish.
The pace was very leisurely (we were there for nearly 2 and a half hours), but we never felt like we were waiting for anything.
We will absolutely be returning soon -- to try the steak, or some of the seafood or pasta dishes, and try the lovely garden that I spied. I have a feeling that this will quickly become a go-to place.