First Taste: Convivio


I’ve always admired Michael White. He’s a really talented chef, and I liked what he did at Fiamma, L’Impero and Alto. But last night at the new Convivio—that would be the slightly redesigned L’Impero with a completely reconceived menu—I fell head over heels for his food.

Nobody else in New York is cooking these authentic Southern Italian dishes. The menu—4 courses for $59—starts in Rome and moves south. It’s filled with gutsy, flavor-forward food that comes rushing straight at you. Some dishes are remarkably simple—radishes served with the most amazing smush of anchovies and garlic, or little pepperoncini filled with smoked mozzarella. Some are more complex: Octopus is braised in tomatoes until it is as supple as butter; a tender frittata of clams and squid comes topped with a handful of fresh greens so that it resembles egg foo young taken to an entirely new level.

Pastas are extraordinary. I’ll be going back just for the rigatoni. Tossed with rustic chunks of sausage and strips of tripe cooked until they are soft enough to dissolve on contact, it is punctuated by crisp lashings of bread crumbs. Handmade fusilli comes twisted into a sauce of slowly cooked pork shoulder and topped with a melted fonduta of caciocavallo. And I’m eager to try saffron gnocchetti with sea urchin and crab, and the classic Roman spaghetti with pepper, egg, and pancetta.

Who could resist suckling pig porchetta, so young that the meat is still slightly gelatinous, and topped with its own crisped skin? Not me. And grilled swordfish with a salsa cruda of tomatoes, mint, garlic, and chopped egg strikes me as the perfect dish for a warm summer night.

Convivio 45 Tudor City Pl., New York, NY (212 599-5045)

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