Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Restaurant 28: Convivium (Multitude of Drops 1)

RESTAURANT: Convivium (Multitude of Drops 1)
LOCATION: 68 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
DATE: May 27, 2005
FOOD: Appetizers – Whole Roasted Artichoke; Watercress Salad with Gorgonzola and Walnuts; Primi – Artichoke Ravioli; Entree – Pistachio Crusted Braised Lamb Shank with Cauliflower (Me); Pari-Pari Roast Chicken (Libby); Desserts – Blackberry and Blueberry Panna Cotta; Flourless Chocolate Cake
BEVERAGE: Split a bottle of Pinot Grigio, Decaf Cappucino
PRICE: $178.00 (for two)

Perhaps a dinner based on a discussion of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated should begin with a focus on the restaurant’s lighting. Convivium, a rustic Mediterranean restaurant in Park Slope (where Foer lives, hence the choice), is lit almost exclusively by the cocktail glass sized candles burning atop the unfinished wood of its communal farm tables. Convivium has the atmosphere of a half-forgotten memory, its ethereal glow and untranslated Portuguese menu evocative of a foreign local witnessed only in old movies. The food however, demands to be remembered, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian elements merging in dishes both singular and delicious.

Mimicking the success of Infinite Feast, Libby and I decided to start our own book club – Multitude of Drops. Everything Is Illuminated was our first selection. Convivium’s cuisine worked perfectly with our discussion, which ranged over Foer’s innovative meta-narrative and moving depiction of the Holocaust’s lasting impact on the survivors and history as a whole. The food, while notable, was more familiar than revolutionary. It was excellent without making too much of a fuss, thoroughly enjoyable without drawing more attention to itself than we would have wanted to give.

The list of non-vegetarian appetizers was less than exciting, so we ordered the watercress salad with gorgonzola and walnuts and the whole roasted artichoke, the later perhaps Convivium’s best known dish. The salad was a bit too simple and needed some type of dressing to make it less boring. When ordering a salad at a restaurant, it’s always a bit disappointing to be served a plate of the same untouched greens readily available in grocery store salad starter kits nationwide. However, the artichoke was delectable. The stem and even some of the bristly leaves, normally inedible parts of the vegetable, had been tenderized by a roasting process I can only imagine must take a very precise oven. Served in a chicken soup colored broth, the artichoke pleased us both, a light and invigorating way to begin the meal.

What followed was one of the two our unanimous best dishes of the nice – artichoke stuffed ravioli dusted with parmesan cheese shavings. It was a perfect example of the type of pan-European flavors Convivium excels at uniting. The pasta was supple; the artichoke filling vibrant. There was nothing surprising about the pasta – it was just that all the ingredients had been integrated flawlessly.

While Libby feasted on the peppery Peri-Peri roast chicken, I was enthralled by my entrée, the pistachio crusted lamb shank. While using nuts as a dusting for lamb has now become commonplace, Convivium still managed to infuse the dish with some novel vitality. The meat was succulent and complimented well by the braised saucing. And while normally my affinity for cauliflower is on par with George Bush the First’s love of broccoli, the vinegar glaze coating Convivium’s made the ugly white vegetable a side I would actually look forward to eating.

Dessert was as a whole the most consistent and tasty course. The flourless chocolate cake gratified like a freshly baked brownie. But even better was the panna cotta, a dessert I usually loathe but in this case was my favorite plate of the evening. If you took the berry filling of your favorite pie, the creaminess of Italy’s best vanilla gelato, and the texture of Spain’s smoothest flan, you would have Convivium’s panna cotta. Also, I generally don’t comment on cappuccino or coffee, but Convivium’s cappuccino deserves mention. It was wonderful; a cup that remembered cappuccino should still taste like coffee and not just heated froth.

So as the first meeting of Multitude of Drops came to an end, and Libby and I began to talk less of the book and more of each other, I realized such a conversational path should have been far from unexpected. Convivium is a romantic restaurant. As we sipped the remarkable Pinot Grigio our waiter had recommended and pondered the intricacies of Foer’s art, I couldn’t help noticing that Convivium is made for couples. While the space is tiny, Convivium is intimate and not claustrophobic. It’s easy to be lost in the moment, your conversations made somehow more important, the world a distant place to be dealt with later. Convivium is private while being public, and I was able to focus on the one thing I wanted to – namely, the woman sitting across from me – without any distractions. The food is reward enough, but if you find the right person to go with, Convivium can be more than just amazing – it can become magical as well.

RATING: 7.8/10

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