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NYC visit -- Italian quandry?

Hi NYC 'hounds. Thanks to reading your recs over the last year or two I've eaten at, and loved, Prune, Momofuku Ssam, Market Table, and especially Perilla. The BF is slightly less adventurous than I, loves Italian, really liked Crispo (I liked it too but thought it was a bit noisy).

Coming back to the city at the end of May, and this time around I made a res at Convivio, thought the $59 prix fixe menu looked great and it met our seasonal AND Italian prefs, but I'm a little concerned about the atmosphere. We're on the low-key side so I'm looking for great food, casual, moderate+ priced. Not a "scene," not too noisy or crowded (I knew about the tight tables at Prune, an acceptable sacrifice!). Is Convivio the right pick, or is there another Italian spot I might be overlooking? The Batali spots seemed like they might be a bit too pricey, and I'm not interested in a coolness factor... I'd go to $75/person + wine/tax/tip.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. You can definitely do Babbo or Lupa at $75/person + wine/tax/tip.

    Have you considered Scarpetta?

    3 Replies
      1. re: LeahBaila

        You can do Babbo, (though I would splurge a but if you choose to go) and Lupa wouldn't even require much of an effort.

        1. re: Jorel

          Lupa is more like $40 + wine/tax/tip. I've never paid anything close to $75/person there.

    1. I don't think of Convivio as a scene, and I remember the tables as being reasonably well spaced, and that it wasn't noisy. It's a good looking room, and I enjoyed much, though not all, of the food. I do think it's a good deal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MMRuth

        MMRuth, where we sat the tables were very close together. It could get noisy and lively, though luckily that wasn't our experience. I think we went on a week night.

        I liked Lupa's food better then Convivio's. Crispo is a good value, luckily we didn't have noise level issues when we went (which to be fair was some time ago).

      2. Thanks, everyone. You emboldened me to call Babbo, but they just had a 10:45pm open and I need an early start the next day. Next trip, maybe! So we'll give Convivio a try. We're also heading to Blue Smoke, and for unscheduled lunches might try the lamb & rice cart and also Momofuku Milk Bar for a pork bun...to balance things out a bit. All things we can't find in our 'hood, Western MA.

        5 Replies
        1. re: hollerhither

          Call the night before or day of and they often have a cancellation, if you still want to give Babbo a try.

          1. re: hollerhither

            Don't feel that you are missing out by not getting into Babbo. Convivio is every bit as good, maybe even better. Without the Batali name there would be no competition to get a res at Babbo. It's overhyped because everyone from out of town has heard of it and wants to tell all their friends back home that they ate there rather than someplace they haven't heard of. I would not describe the atmosphere at either of these as a "scene".

            1. re: rrems

              I couldn't agree more. Both of my meals there were extremely mediocre.

              1. re: rrems

                I couldn't disagree more. I went to both Babbo and Convivio quite a few times (definitely more to Babbo). I have always been happy with the food at Babbo, whereas a few dishes and service let me a bit disappointed at Convivio.

              2. re: hollerhither

                PS, just for the record, Blue Smoke was mediocre at best...aside from the beer list and maybe the sausage. The meat on its own was pretty flavorless, and the fried egg salad was nothing special, kinda rubbery. Very disappointing for a place that's received so much hype.

              3. If Convivio hasn't changed much, room-wise, since it was L'Impero, then it is the antithesis of a "scene."

                2 Replies
                1. re: small h

                  I believe it was redecorated before they reopened as Convivio. I only went after that, but was told by friends that the decor when it was L'Impero was rather bland. I'd say it was rather bold now, but I wouldn't call it a scene either.

                  1. re: small h

                    It has changed in the sense that L'Impero was subdued and formal, whereas now it is more casual and decorated in brighter colors. It feels livelier too, and is not as quiet, but definitely not a scene.

                  2. Its a bit nieghborhoody but Spigolo aon the UES is amazing- great Italian, great atmosphere. And they used to have a 70 dollar tasting menu with wine pairing. Highly recommend it!

                    1. Hi everyone, just wanted to mention that we had a *fantastic* experience at Convivio (and I reserve that word only for truly exceptional dining). We ordered the prix fixe, I had the quail skewer, the small gnocchi with crabmeat and sea urchin reduction, the lamb chops, and, due to a happy accident by the kitchen, got to try both the sorbet AND the gelati for dessert. All were excellent, I believe the gnocchi and the quail were the standouts but that might be because I was getting pretty stuffed by the time the perfectly-cooked lamb chops arrived. I particularly enjoyed the attention paid to providing a variety of textures within the dishes -- a little crunch of breadcrumbs on the gnocchi, the frisee with the quail skewer, a few white beans on the bed of greens for the herb-encrusted lamb chops, etc.

                      As less-moneyed out-of-towners who were a little concerned we wouldn't fit in, I am happy to report that the staff couldn't have been more welcoming. Spot on, unpretentious service. The sommelier gave us a great option for a red, AND decanted it despite it being on the less expensive side. Thanks very much for the recs and feedback -- I'd happily talk this place up to anyone.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: hollerhither

                        "The sommelier gave us a great option for a red, AND decanted it despite it being on the less expensive side."

                        Nice touch. Love restaurants that make the extra effort to do that.

                        1. re: hollerhither

                          hollerhither, thanks for the report. BTW, decanting has nothing to do with the price of the wine, rather for old wines that have sediment or young, full wines that need air. I guess one could decant for ambience sake . . .

                          1. re: financialdistrictresident

                            It'll be nice if all good restaurants would understand that. In some cases they are not even aware that white wines may need decanting, too.

                            We once BYO’d with fees a ’80s Lafite and a much cheaper 2000 Trimbach CFE-VT in a moderate-expensive restaurant, and the wait staff justifiably offered to decant the Lafite (still young in spite of some bottle age) and did not offer to do the same for the Trimbach (actually much bigger and definitely much more youthful). My dinner companion had to ask him to decant it.

                            1. re: financialdistrictresident

                              Yep, I understand that, but I doubt many places bother to decant less expensive wines -- or don't offer lower-priced wines that require decanting to open up a bit. Regardless, it was a nice touch.