"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Convivio - December 30, 2010

The New York Times review on Convivio, titled “The Empire’s New Clothes,” should have been “The Emperor’s New Clothes” because Convivio is that embarrassing, hypocritical and false.

Fegatini - rustic chicken liver crostini, marsala onions
The texture of the liver pate was exquisitely silky. However, the silken texture was the best part of the dish, and what was more, the best part of the entire meal. The simple pate, done without cream, was light and bloody, yes, bloody: The blood of the chicken liver was not completely drained out, either out of negligence or laziness, I do not know; I will not dare to insult the chef by considering the possibility that the blood was left in on purpose. The toasted bread oozed olive oil as I lifted a slice, which was illogical and unnecessary, not to mention that it was thoroughly inective to enliven the dead liver pate.

Pansotti – Sheep milk ricotta, wild mushroom ragu

Since Chef White was renowned for his pasta creations (although he had departed, I hear), we, excited and gullible, ordered three to split between two people. Pansotti, wanton-shaped dumplings with wanton-like thin skins, was insubstantial, whose existence was annihilated by the heady but murky mushroom ragu. If this were meant to be a symphony of piano and forte, then it must have been one of those atonal cacophony, which performance I would rather have missed.

Malloreddus - sardinian saffron gnocchetti, crab, sea urchin

Gnocchetti, they were certainly not; malloreddus is a type of pasta, shaped like little conch shells with grooves in the back to capture the sauce. The grooves on the chewy homemade malloreddus were, however, made in vain: The sauce was as lousy and boring, as an unshaved and unwashed neighbor in his pajamas scratching himself at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Expecting the delicate richness of the sea urchin, my tongue, instead, tasted an artillery-clogging heaviness; the more I ate to figure out this strange sensation, the more I was suffocating as my esophagus was coated by the orange film. There was nothing on the plate to relieve me of the sinking feeling, akin to a poor ant sliding down an anthill (read Kobo Abe’s “The Woman in the Dunes” if you want to experience the depressing feeling). I felt sorry for the fresh and quality crabs, which gave up their lives to be here at Convivio, and who had had their sacrifices totally wasted, mired inextricably in the orange mud.

Fusili - neopolitan pork shoulder ragu, cacciocavallo fonduta

The fusili had texture but not taste. The tomato sauce was singularly flat, with overwhelming acidity from the tomato; a thing of wonder considering ragu is normally stewed, and thus, the acidity will mellow out. Perhaps the “inventive” cuisine at Convivio did not require stewing time, for the pork shoulder was shockingly dry and flavorless. As to the presence of cacciovallo fonduta, I must say that the cheese must have simply wanted to go back to Italy as it did nothing to the dish.

Zuppa di Cioccolato - mint bergamot semifreddo, hot chocolate soup
The growling stomach, I dug into the pale round of semifreddo. The texture was right, creamy but sturdier than ice cream, while the bergamot, as I had feared, was out of touch with the taste buds. The average chocolate sauce failed to give the dessert any flare or drama.

Bomboloni – Banana filled doughnut, chocolate dipping sauce

I sampled a bite of their bomboloni, stuffed with banana. If you want a really good doughnut, I think you are better off somewhere else; I personally prefer my local farmer’s apple cider doughnut. However, if you are in a dire need for fried dough at the end of your meal, perhaps out of sheer hunger or sheer despair, I can say that these are at least edible.

Dining with someone who has an allergy for garlic at an Italian restaurant was arguably absurd – not an experience to be repeated intentionally. However, Convivio turned the absurdity into a hardship. Their olive oil, as we were told, was already infused with garlic; therefore, the only dishes that were available would be something without olive oil, which was, at an Italian restaurant, a near impossibility. Granted, the allergy was not something that an Italian chef would encounter normally; nonetheless, the chef only needed to use some regular, non-garlic-infused oil and prepare the dishes the same way. Thus, this technical change in preparation should not have eliminated all the dishes, if the chef was willing to feed his patrons. Exasperated by the curt responses in the form of “No” to his sheepish enquiries (or entreaties, more like) whether a dish could be made without garlic, our fellow diner with the unfortunate allergy had to almost beg the waitress to ask the chef if anything could be done. Not only the waitress was rude to the point of borderline unacceptability (her attitude picked up noticeably as the tipping time approached), the chef also seemed little inclined to exercise his expertise or creativity for his unfortunate patron. At the end, the resolution was an even more bland Malloreddus, if such was possible (I suppose it was). I think the doubly unfortunate diner would have been better off eating simply boiled pasta with salt and pepper and some shaved parmiggiano.

Garlic allergy or not, the only delicious item at this incompetent and impertinent restaurant was the olive bread – chewy, moist and crusty, although stingy with the olives. However, it was served by yet another rude underling of the Emperor with the New Clothes, who either had an auditory dysfunction or simply a dysfunctional attitude toward life.

I have never understood the masses, and thankfully I never will. However, one thing I know is food and I refuse to join the party in pretending that the Emperor is wearing anything at all.

Address:  45 Tudor City Place, New York, NY 10017

Phone:  (212) 599-5045

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