NYC Restaurants

Convivio

CLOSED!

45 Tudor City Place (42nd St)
New York, NY, 10017
(212) 599-5045
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Cuisine: Italian

Menu:   View the Menu

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Cititour Review:
“We’ve noticed a change in you,” they told her, speaking slowly and deliberately. “You eat with too much gusto.” This pronouncement, what she realized was an intervention of sorts, came from her mother and brother. It was offered quietly in the living room of her childhood home after dinner, at the end of a weeklong visit. Julie was telling us about this “intervention” last week while she, Kathy and I were having dinner at Convivio, the new incarnation of L’Impero, Chris Canon’s smart and elegant Tudor City restaurant where chef Michael White (Alto, Fiamma) is now turning out a fantastic array of soulful Italian fare.

“They told me I am too passionate about food, that I always scrape my plate clean and that I need to slow down,” Julie continued, shocked and rather despondent over the intervention. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so relieved to come back home and eat with the two of you.”

Indeed, Julie will not be getting any sort of lecture from Kathy or me. On the gusto scale, we’re pretty much off the charts. And Convivio is a place where gusto is, quite frankly, involuntary. It is triggered at first just by reading the menu, a long wide chart of edibles that includes a fun selection of sfizi (little snacks) to get your gusto started, like charred sweet summer corn tossed with a tangle of grilled onions turned from raw and sharp to soft and sweet ($4), eggplant sliced into hunks and grilled, then served cold, marinated in chile flake and balsamico so the flesh is bright and spicy and tastes almost pickled ($4), pinky-sized icicle radishes with a creamy anchovy dipping sauce ($4), and terrific arancini ($5)—plump, golden blow-pop sized balls of rice and fresh peas anchored by a heart of gooey cheese in the center.

Our gusto continued after sfizi, and throughout the prix fixe menu of antipasti, pasta, secondi and dessert. (While ordering a la carte is also available, at $59 a person for four courses, it’s a great deal.) Chef White has a confidence with his cooking that comes across with startlingly vibrant seasoning (no lack of salt or acidity in this food), and has a beautiful way with pastas that were definitely the highlight of our very impressive meal in the space formerly known as L’Impero.

Speaking of L’Impero, a word about the design. The room has gotten a bit of an update by designer Vicente Wolf, with warm orange banquettes, and soft cream fringes on the walls, but the white tablecloths remain, which lend the room a distinct formality that feels mismatched with cuisine. White has a robust and rich hand in the kitchen and this food is rustic and hearty, which is at odds with the pristine dining room. The bar is more sexy and chic, and I think swapping the dining room tablecloths for some bare and beautiful tabletops with placemats might have given the dining room a little more style. Then again, it’s a comfortable room, and the sound levels are easy on the eardrums, which suits the zip code quite well.

White pretty much wowed us the whole way through our meal, with just a few minor disappointments. The selection of antipasti may only have one dull note, a salad of escarole, salami, provolone cheese and olives ($11) that seemed rather pedestrian compared to the rest of the menu, like something cobbled together from leftovers in the fridge. In contrast to the lackluster salad, a salsiccia (a braised tripe sausage) is exquisite—juicy and plump like a bratwurst and served over a bed of garlicky broccoli rabe, with shaved Parmesan and pulpy sweet tomato sauce. It’s a bit wintry, but it was devoured nonetheless. A little heat and humidity is not enough to keep me from that salsiccia. On the opposite spectrum was a distinctly summery hamachi carpaccio ($14), cut into thick succulent sashimi slices and dressed sparely but perfectly with olive oil, sea salt, basil, a few thinly sliced pickled chile peppers, and a shower of sun-sweetened cherry tomatoes.

As I mentioned earlier, the pastas here are the stars of the show. The menu offers six choices, and the three we had all offered different textures, flavors and thrills. Pansoti—fat tortellini shaped dumplings—a special that night, are stuffed with hot and creamy burrata and set in a shallow puddle of concentrated and smooth tomato sauce that seemed to have been reduced and reduced to amplify the sweetness a hundred fold. Like Conant’s old L’Impero signature spaghetti with tomato and basil (which is on his menu at Scarpetta), this dish embodies simplicity and steps aside, letting it be.

The fusilli ($22) was also unbelievable—tiny twisted ropes of fresh pasta are washed in a Neapolitan braised pork shoulder ragu topped with a “fonduta” made from cacciocavallo cheese, giving the ragu a ridiculous (borderline lethal) richness. The ragu also manages to strikes the perfect balance between sweet and heat—the sauce plays around with your tongue, so you never quite know what you’re gonna get. It’s amazingly fun to eat. The taralli ($24), a corkscrew shaped pasta made from Durham wheat, is tossed with ribbons of grilled sepia, breadcrumbs, crumbled hunks of sweet sausage and some chile flake (again, there’s that perfect seasoning that really brings the flavors of these pastas into focus) and is set in a rustic chopped tomato sauce. This is probably the most home-styled dish of the lot, a real soulful pasta that tastes like it was made from a recipe passed down from mother to daughter over decades. I’d like it passed over to me now, please.

Entrees also offer many choices from fish to meat, game and poultry, so it’s possible to eat here a dozen times and never repeat a meal. We were disappointed in the octopus ($27) with lemon, red peppers and big bright green castelvetrano olives the size of sourball candies, because the octopus tasted like someone had forgotten it was on the grill, gone to take a phone call, and returned to find it charred and rubbery, and still decided to serve it. Not good. But the whole roasted squab was perfectly cooked, moist and pink and tender, served with a wonderful combination of olives, pistachios, olives, and confited lemon. The Vitello a Latte (milk-braised veal shoulder) served with broccoli rabe and marble potatoes ($29) is good in a rather old school meat-n-potatoes kind of way; it would not have been out of place at Tony Soprano’s dinner table. While the entrees were quite good, the pastas were so special that perhaps the chef might consider adding a pasta-tasting menu as an alternative to the prix fixe? Please?

Desserts were wonderful, especially a tartaletta, a small buttery tart topped with nectarines and filled with almond paste that tasted a bit like a financier ($12), airy ricotta dumplings with chocolate and vanilla-orange dipping sauces ($11), and an affogato with ricotta cheese gelato ($11). I am not a chocolate lover, but I really enjoyed the Sicilian Torta, chocolate layered with cannoli filling.

As it may appear from my review, my dinner at Convivio was terrific, and the food, the wine, and the company of two great friends went a long way to help lift my mood. I was a clutch of nerves at the start of dinner. This week has been a bit rough. While I’d heard from numbers of people about how stressful planning a wedding is, I had no idea. Things were hectic sure, but it was under control until the shit really hit the fan last week. In a nutshell, my grandma’s television set fell on her (I am not making this up) fracturing vertebrae in her neck and her spine, which at 93, is not ideal. Couple endless hours at the hospital with regular old “issues” like my tailor (Wilfred Tailors on 23rd Street to be exact) “forgetting” to hem my wedding dress and “making a mistake” with the slip he was supposed to sew in it (to avoid flashing my friends and family) I was ready to self-destruct. Poor Craig. He’s been holding me together. The man should get a medal. Instead he’s just getting me, forever. Oh, dear.

Anyway, the good news is that Grandma is holding it together (she’ll be at the wedding come hell or high water, as she says), and I found another tailor who got the dress right. (Wilfred ripped me off and good.) And who knows, if things go as planned, by the time you read this on Monday August 18th, I’ll be married. Julie and Kathy will be at the wedding, too, celebrating and eating with gusto. As it should be.
Review By: Andrea Strong

Neighborhood: East 40s

Reservations: Click for reservations

Chef: Michael White

Hours: Lunch:
Mon-Fri 12pm - 2:30pm
Dinner:
Mon-Thu 5:30pm - 10:30pm
Fri-Sat 5pm-11:30pm

Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard


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