It’s rare that I have a virtually flawless dining experience, even at five-star caliber restaurants. However, Michael White’s ode to Southern Italian cuisine, Convivio, bucks the trend, delivering a truly exceptional meal. Convivio is a slam-dunk for fine dining foodies, offering a modern luxe environment fit for everything from a family dinner out to special occasions to client dinners.
In terms of design, simplicity reigns king here. The main dining room is spacious and sophisticated, devoid of distracting do-dads, large sculptures, and what I affectionately call seizure lighting. Brick-colored plush fabric banquettes line the walls of a slightly elevated platform, adding a shock of color to an otherwise cream-and-gray neutral palette. Cool white light brightly illuminates the contemporary minimalist space, and discrete acoustic fringe lines the walls, adding a sense of fluidity and movement to the room. The space is beautifully designed and quiet without being eerily silent; the tables are well-spaced to avoid awkward brush-bys with neighbors. Set in the refined Tudor City enclave, the crowd is predictably older, yet by no means stodgy. You’ll see more classic style here than the Upper East Side.
After tasting Convivio’s food, it becomes obvious that the muted colors and restrained decor are meant to focus attention on the fireworks coming out of the kitchen. The focus is Southern Italian cuisine and while there are hints of soulful home cookin’, Convivio’s interpretation is pure and skilled refinement. Start with a few Sfizi, tapas-style small plates to whet your table’s appetite. The Arancini, saffron risotto balls, were soft and gooey on the inside, crisp on the outside, and packed with satisfying cheesy flavor; the Patate were fresh and earthy, served boiled and cool with shavings of nutty ricotta salata. Careful not to fill up on these little bites, the Sfizi are universally addictive.
Next, classic Italian antipasti. The Fegatini, chicken liver crostini, offers three substantial slices of crusty baguette topped with a generous layer of impossibly creamy chicken liver mousse and shreds of tangy caramelized marsala onions. The Testa, an unusual rendition of pork terrine, wows with a perfectly fried egg sitting pretty atop the decadent terrine itself; a shower of Parmesan is the icing on the cake. Even a classic starter salad, the Misticanza, brings a fresh perspective to an obligatory appetizer option with fingers of salame, bright green olives, onions, and caciocavallo, a mellow if not slightly sharp sheep’s milk cheese.
The homemade pastas are an obligatory part of any meal at Convivio – if you don’t try at least one, you’re seriously missing out. The house specialty has a confounding name, the Malloreddus, and the dish itself, a Sardinian saffron gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin, is just as complex; it tastes like the ocean, with challenging flavors, while maintaining a decadent creaminess. The Fusilli is comforting and nostalgic of spaghetti bolognese with beautifully braised pork shoulder ragu and a generous dousing of caciocavallo fonduta; in the best way possible, its Chef Boyardee taken to an unexpectedly high level. The Maccheroni alla Carbonara was simple and satsifying with the classic carbonara components (pancetta, pecorino, scallion, egg, and black pepper) executed beautifully.
It’s hard to imagine that the entree courses could rival such wonderful pasta dishes, but, naturally, there were definable moments of brilliance in the secondi options as well. The New York strip steak was just about perfect; the discs of meat were just a touch off of bloody, buttery, and earthy; grilled eggplant and black olive added unexpected flavors to an otherwise spot-on Italian rendition of a New York strip. The grilled lamb chops are served a bright medium pink, on the bone, and with a set of unusual accompaniments like salsa verde and escarole; the result is meat-centric, with bright verdant notes highlighting the quality of the chops.
Convivio is exceptional – with 5 people, 3 courses each, 2 bottles of wine, and a few hours of good-time noshing, there was not one bobble in with food served or service. Each course was well-liked and raved about, from the tiny Sfizi to the substantial skirt steak. The bread kept coming, wine was poured at good intervals, the staff was present but neither overbearing nor incompetent. All in all, my party left Convivio mumbling various sports terms like “home run!” and “what a slam dunk!” and “what a win!” – there was a little something for everyone to love.
Perfect For: your parents’ birthdays, anniversary celebrations, fine dining foodies, diplomat stalking (in a totally legal way, of course), Tudor City residents, pasta lovers and Michael White fans