Living in the East50s where good restaurants are thin on the ground, Convivio has become our favorite neighborhood restaurant and we have visited about 15 times in the past year. Last Wednesday evening, we returned with a chef-friend from the Bay Area who had the restaurant at the top of her list of places to sample in New York.
The three of us were seated in a cozy corner of the main dining room the location of this table near the serving stations, was less annoying than it sounds. Busboys are often a weak link here and this was the case that night when we were repeatedly interrupted to ask if we would like more of the (excellent, Sullivan Street) bread.
Our female server was new and was less than conversant with the details of the menu; she told us that a new manager was in place so perhaps there are settling-in issues. None of these details are of major importance here because the food was so terrific.
Wanting a light dinner, three of us began with two shared sfizi. The first: Heirloom potatoes topped with shaved ricotta salata. This dish is a marvel of the philosophy of premium ingreidnets, simply prepared, and it sings! They have set the potato bar very high with this, and with their more famous contorni of pecorino potatoes, which we have sampled on previous occasions. Our second starter, the stracciatella with salsa di pomodoro needs no introduction. This has the "WOW!" factor.
We moved on to three shared antipasti:
Octopus braised in a tomato sauce and served over polenta--excellent; this is the replacement for a previous favorite of mine, the grilled octopus, and it was excellent--three of us almost came to blows for the remains of the sauce-infused polenta.
Fegatini of chicken liver--add this to the menu of my last meal on earth
Insalata di Mare--forget the flaccid renditions you may have had in the past..this was a heaping bowl of warm clams mussels, calamari, tiny black olives, caperberries and more garlicky goodness. In a larger portion it would make a fine main course.
Three of us shared two pastas.
Having returned from Puglia several days before, I expected to have a bit of a letdown on these, but we agreed that the fusilli with pork ragu and fonduta of caciocavallo--which may by the restaurant's best dish-- stacked up with the best dishes of our Pugliese sojourn. We have had this every time we eat at Convivio and we are always left in awe.
Maccheroni alla Carbonara was excellent and far from the usual heavy, eggy rendition, although not in the same league as the richer fusilli, to my taste.
Dessert was a terrific marsala semifreddo topped with glazed figs and accompanied by wondrous gelato--apologies if this latter description falls short; I did not take notes. (I will, however, take the opportunity to make a plea for the return of my personal favorite, the tartaletta di caramelle to the menu! )
All in all, we are lucky to have Convivio on our backyard! Although the restaurant was sparsely occupied when we entered at 6pm, by the time we left around 8:30 the place was packed. For good reason!
45 Tudor City Place, New York, NY 10017