If you’re looking for a sign of the times, Convivio is it.
45 Tudor City Place, at 42nd St. (212) 599-5045
Sun.-Thur., 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
Cuisine Southern Italian.
Vibe Warm Tudor City haunt.
Occasion Business lunch; group dinner.
Don’t Miss Dish Four-course prix fixe or the sweetbreads piccata, tuna & caper ravioli, roasted squab.
Average Price Appetizers, $13; entrees, $25; dessert, $11.
Sometimes, a restaurant doesn’t really need a makeover. All it needs is a make-under.
is a perfect example. Just six weeks ago, L’Impero shut its doors on a
quiet block in Tudor City. Two weeks later, it reopened as Convivio. A
quick wardrobe change, a few tweaks to the menu and voila, a new
restaurant. Sort of. It’s the same chef, Michael White, same owners, and yet everything feels different.
banquettes are brighter, burnt orange, instead of somber blue. The
service is still efficient, but somehow friendlier. The room is warmer,
the atmosphere more relaxed. Now it’s less a jacket-and-tie kind of
place, more jacket-and-loosened tie. If you’re looking for a sign of
the times, Convivio is it. Even the dishes carried over from L’Impero,
including the prix fixe, have gone down in price. Not a lot, but enough
to seem empathetic. After all, the easy times may be over – for now
But the drop in price at Convivio doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality. If you have any doubts, order the sweetbreads. Sometimes, sweetbreads can look, and even taste, a little too
anatomical. But Michael White’s sweetbreads look and taste almost
ethereal. They’re glossed in a chive-speckled piccata sauce that cuts
right through the unctuousness of the sweetbreads. This is my favorite
dish on the menu.
I apparently like my quail skewered, too. Who
knew? But when it’s on a kebab with chunks of pancetta and shiitake
mushrooms, and drizzled in a vin cotto, the logic of skewering quail
seems perfectly clear. In a way, these two dishes are emblematic of
what Michael White does best. He works well with bold flavors and
resilient textures. Clearly, what appeals to him is the rusticity of
southern Italian cooking.
It’s almost as simple as meat versus
fish. The pastas with meat sauces always trump the pastas with seafood,
except for a wonderful ravioli of braised tuna and capers, which has
all the sweetness (and some of the salt) of the sea itself. Sometimes,
the delicacy of the fish on the menu is overwhelmed, and sometimes it’s
underwhelmed. A heavy, mint-laced yogurt kept arguing with a very
creative swordfish involtino. The crab gnocchetti was served in an
innocuous sea urchin sub-bisque.
And the shrimp in the
calamari-tossed spaghetti were too few and too tiny. Eating them was
like playing a game of connect-the-shrimp.
Somehow, you can
always tell when a chef likes to eat. What tells you that Michael White
is a good eater is the pasta at Convivio – any pasta with meat sauce.
Take your pick – ricotta cavatelli baked with goat ragu in a buffalo
mozzarella and pecorino “hoodie.” Or perhaps, a fusilli with chunks of
pork shoulder topped with a fonduta, or orecchiette with sausage, tripe
and wild fennel. These are superb dishes to settle down to on a chilly
night in late November or even late August.
You may want to
spend some of the money you save on the wines. This is one unusual,
impressive selection of wines by the glass. The Carjanti Gulfi 2005, a
Sicilian white, is amazingly adaptable. And where else can you find a
Mariposa Panevino 2006 by the glass? It’s a deftly balanced,
irresistibly aromatic Sardinian wine. For dessert, don’t miss the
beignet, the Tudor City equivalent of funnel cake.