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Aug 1, 2008 05:21 AM

Who needs Babbo when there's Convivio?

Tried Convivio last night, and was very impressed with this new incarnation of L'Impero. Aside from the redecoration and reduction in the price of the 4-course prix-fixe from $64 to $59, the menu has been expanded significantly. There are now about twice as many pasta choices, and a new category, Sfizi, or snacks, has been added. Everything can still be ordered a la carte, but the prix-fixe is a great deal. I find the food to be similar in style to Babbo, and of at least as high quality, but though the restaurant was filled there is no difficulty reserving on short notice. Dishes we ordered: Octupus with tomato and polenta, squab (a daily special), orecchiette with tripe, a pasta with a goat ragu, porchetta (stuffed suckling pig with cracklings, aniother special), bistecca with tomato and parmesan, ricotta fritta (sweet fritters with 2 dipping sauces), and a selection of gelati. The desserts were good but not great. Everything else was absolutely superb. There is so much fuss over Babbo on this board, and agonizing over getting a reservation, and I really think it is overhyped and not worth all the bother. For anyone who cares more about great food in a nice atmosphere and doesn't care about celebrity chefs, Convivio is a great choice.

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  1. But how exactly was the service? Service was always L'Impero's biggest weakness, and I used to live close enough to eat there every night.

    4 Replies
    1. re: thenamesdave

      Service was flawless. I agree that sometimes the service at L'Impero could be slow or inattentive, but it now appears that they have more staff and everything was running smoothly. We finished our 4-course meal in an hour and 45 minutes which I think is just right.

      1. re: rrems

        I've got a res for tomorrow night and am looking forward to it.
        Good stuff on the wine list?

        1. re: il Trifulau

          The wine list hasn't changed, so it is still heavy on the high-priced stuff. I found a pretty good red from Calabria (can't recall the name but it was a 2003 and a blend of various grapes) for $45.

      2. re: thenamesdave

        Convivio was solid when i was there for restaurant week. The food was great, but the portions a little small. The service was just a bit spotty too, but that might improve with time. Hopefully they'll work out some of that awkwardness.

      3. I could not agrre more. The pasta with sea urchins is probably one of the best pasta dish i have ever tasted..and there are more dishes like that.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pascal2305

          I agree as well, that pasta with sea urchins was sooo good. So were the other dishes. And the service was respectful--a FAR cry from how I was treated the one time I was "allowed" to enter Babbo--where they tried to sit me at the bar. And the food IS better at Convivio.

          1. re: Bobster427

            ok you all made me very hungry with that pasta with sea urchin,,,, i'm going to try convivio tonite ,, thanks

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Thanks for the review. I'm going in 2 weeks and am looking forward to it.

            How does the 4-course menu work? Is it appetizer, pasta, meat or fish and dessert?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Shawn

              Yes, those are the 4 courses.

              1. re: rrems

                Went to Convivio last week, excellent food, really nice atmosphere, very good service defintely a winner and a place to go back to to try other dishes on the menu. That being said I dont get the slam on Babbo if you like Convivio better?
                I couldnt care less about the celebrity chef aspect of Babbo I just think the food is excellent. Which is why I beleive most people who love Babbo on this board keep going back. Also if it were easier to get a table at Babbo would that make it a better restaurant? would it make it better than Convivio?

                1. re: jvish

                  I haven't been to Convivio yet but intend to go because the food I had at L'Impero with Michael White in the kitchen was excellent. rrems confirms my confidence that that that will be the case at Convivio.

                  I have never been to Babbo and have no intention of going there because I refuse to do the reservations tango required to get a table. If Convivio offers me Italian food of comparable quality *and* makes getting a table easier, I see no reason to knock myself out trying to get into Babbo. Afaic, no restaurant is worth that.

                  1. re: RGR

                    I went to Convivio this weekend based on this thread.
                    My wife and I enjoyed our meal very much. The servers were very personable, yet professional, and the wine steward directed us toward an outstanding bottle of a southern blend wine which hit the mark perfectly based on the criteria I offered. It was also two-thirds the price of the one I had asked about originally.

                    The place is also very comfortable and when we go back, I'd like to take advantage of the outdoor seating on that nice Tudor patio.

                    All of that being what it is, the place ain't no Babbo. Not even close. Different leagues.
                    Say what you like about Babbo, the food, as far as Italian food in New York goes, is very nearly without peer.
                    Anyway, being a Babbo comparison I'm sure is not what they're trying to do there. Both restaurants have their place but are very different.

                    1. re: il Trifulau

                      Agree! They are TRYING to be Babbo. We found Convivio very ordinary. Love when people make these sweeping statements when the place has been open for a few weeks. Time has a way of changing these opinions. After all, why did they change name & concept?

                    2. re: RGR

                      Very well said, RGR. My point was not to disparage Babbo, just to point out that there are alternatives that are just as good or better and do not require all the planning and jumping through hoops.

              2. We went to Convivio last night and thought it was excellent. We both ordered the four-course dinner. For starters, husband had a salad, and I had the chicken liver crostini. The crostini was outstanding-- one of the best versions I've had. This was followed by husbands linguini with white clam sauce and my gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin. Both pasta dishes were great. Husband enjoyed his bronzino, and I had an interesting stuffed swordfish dish-- it was fried, which was a bit much for me after all I'd eaten before, but still delicious. We're not big dessert eaters, so I had the sorbet assortment and husband had the cheese plate. Both were just fine.

                The wine list had many unusual, reasonably priced selections (many in the $35-45 range). The sommelier helped us with our selection, and recommended a Sardinian wine for $55 that worked perfectly for us. Service was great. The sommelier must have heard me say happy birthday to my husband as we toasted, and they brought out his cheese plate with a candle. We thought Convivio was a great choice, and we'll definitely return.