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Apr 5, 2008 06:10 AM

Convivium Osteria -- fantastic meal (long-ish)

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.

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  1. Thanks for the review. We havent been there in awhile and I've been wondering if it was still worth going back. They've changed chefs (as many places do when the owner isnt a chef)) several times since opening and that's created an unevenness in our experiences there. Gotta say though that the majority of times have been good for us. Now we'll go back.

    1. Thanks for the thorough review. My husband and I have only been once and had a similarly charming experience (we also sat in the wine cellar and were really taken aback and how lovely it is down there). I recall having the quail to start with and the ribeye for two entree. We've meant to return a million times..and probably will now that I've heard it's as good as it was.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Nehna

        Just a quick question - are they still cash only? I just booked a party there for Saturday night and nothing was mentioned - in fact, they took a credit card to hold the reservation.

        Guh - nm - they take American Express.

        1. re: lambretta76

          I was there this past weekend and I have to say, I was sorely disappointed. Convivium Osteria is one of those restaurants that I have been meaning to go to forever, so I was very excited when I finally made a reservation for my husband's birthday. The space is definitely as charming as I had hoped and the staff was very nice, but the food really didn't do it for us. We started with the meats and cheeses for two and it was dropped off with no explanation whatsoever. I love cheese and cured meats and I am always looking to appreciate new finds... Anyway, my main course was really great (thanks to my chowhound research), I ordered the apple ravioli in a duck ragu and was very pleased, but my husband, the birthday boy (!) got the pasta special, pappardelle with a veal shank, and I can't even express the mediocrity that was this dish: wet noodles and greasy meat with absolutely no saving grace. I was embarrassed to be eating so well by his side...I still feel guilty for not sparing him on his birthday. All in all, the restaurant isn't that bad, but I definitely expected more for the price and will not go back. I really wish I had nicer things to say, it is rare (to say the least with a baby) to go out for a special dinner, so we were especially looking forward to a nice dinner... I was really looking to enjoy myself, NOT find fault!

          1. re: good_cookie

            We had a fantastic dinner there last night. We split the seafood tapas for 2, which was was a nice, heart selection of both cold and hot seafood tapas, all of which were excellent. We both had excellent pasta entrees. My pasta in a lobster sauce was one of the best pasta entrees that I have had in a long time. The spaghetti was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was bursting with lobster flavor and perfectly seasoned. My husband had a pasta with meat ragu, which was also perfect and brimming with flavor. We will definitely be going back again, although the cash only policy is a bit of a pain.

      2. Thanks for the excellent review - it was a very charming write.

        If I may ask, how much was your total bill, tax + tip included.

        8 Replies
        1. re: rhydewithdis

          Its been a while, but I seem to recall the price being between 150-170 for everything. Pricey, but worth it for the level of food, service and atmosphere.

          1. re: elecsheep9

            i left a message earlier in the week requesting a reservation for this evening. as of yet, no call back. i guess they don't need my business?

            1. re: TBird

              There's a small chance that they're closed for vacation. Of course, if that's the case, the answering machine should say so.

              Also, I would give them the benefit of the doubt and call one more time, maybe closer to dinner hours when they're more likely to pick up.

              Of course, it's their JOB to return your call but who know what happened? Someone accidentally deleted the message? Someone wrote the phone number down incorrectly? They accidentally crossed your name off because they think they called you? They were short-staffed that afternoon and they had to clear out the machine for the next day? That's why it's a moderately-priced neighborhood place and not Per Se -- they're not perfect.


              1. re: Peter

                I agree with Peter. Before I went last time I called and left a message. When I didn't hear back after a day I called back, mildly irritated, and the owner told he'd gotten my name and time but my number had been garbled by a bad connection so he couldn't call back to confirm.

                Things happen.

                As luck would happen I'm eating there again tonight; )

                1. re: bhill

                  they wrote down the wrong number. even tho i lefy two numbers...but i didn't panick, and a last minute call had it worked out. awesome experience...

                  wait, just re-read bhill...SAME experience...uh.......weird, no?

                  1. re: TBird

                    Weird coincidence? Maybe.

                    Or maybe they have a crappy answering machine and it's hard to hear.

                    Or maybe, just maybe, they're lousy at returning calls and always make the same excuses.

                    Based on the food and the charm, I'm ok with a little white lie now and again. ;)


                    1. re: Peter

                      that steak was among the best i've ever had. obviously, i agree!

                      1. re: TBird

                        TBird, glad we made a Convivium fan out of you. Welcome to the club. ;)


        2. I concur with Tbird the steak was amazing...also the sardines were the best that I ever had