Convivium Osteria for the World Weary Palate
It's been slow going trying to get back into the swing of blogging. First there were the holidays and now I've been battling a seemingly interminable cold. Plus, my regular job has been keeping me extra busy lately and we started doing major home renovation and, well, that can be stressful and time consuming to say the least.
The Friday before Christmas, my friend, Bernie, flew in from New Zealand. We used to be flatmates in London years ago. Ironically enough, London is where I really started to nurture my passion for food. I don't think I was riding the so-called culinary revolution in London. I think I was just excited by the new foods around me and being closer to the source of European foods which so often are shadows of themselves in the U.S. Needless to say, my continental travels often amounted to culinary adventures. After which, I'd come back to London with lists of French cheeses and a lingering taste of penne arrabiata. I'd then be compelled to try to recreate it in the corner of a kitchen in our London flat. While it was gray and rainy outside the penne arrabiata would brighten the day and make me think of Italy, a place I began to think of as a second home. Bernie was always more than willing to be my guinea pig. Having come from an isolated place like New Zealand, I introduced him to such exotic things as olive oil and parmegianno reggiano. But this Christmas he's introduced me to something new -- avocado oil.
After a 14-hour flight, I was amazed that Bernie wasn't tired, but he was famished. We were in the midst of our wet and warm winter. With the house in renovation, I was in no position to treat Bernie to another experiment. Seeking a restaurant that would be comforting after long travels, Convivium Osteria fit the bill. And indeed upon Bernie's first sip into his consomme, he remarked that it was worth coming to Brooklyn just for the food. It hardly comes as a surpise that Lonely Planet has deemed Brooklyn one of its top 10 destinations for 2007. And I had also taken him to some of the borough's best like Frankie's 457 Spuntino and Dumont Burger.
The food at Convivium Osteria is what I would describe as Spanish-inspired Mediterranean. Like the decor the food is comforting, rustic and simple. The menu sports such delectibles as charred sardines, fried salt cod and braised artichokes. I love the braised rabbit in olive oil and white wine. Perhaps my favorite dish is the grilled baby octopus salad with celery. The contrast between a most tender octopus and crunch of the celery is perfect. Too much celery can be jarring and seem like filler, but in this dish it's just right. The sea bream which came whole was moist and flavorful. The desserts were more than satisfying. Finally a flourless chocolate cake that was moist, not dry and the juniper berry pannacotta hit the mark. Not wanting us to miss out on the almond cake, our waiter brought us a slice and boy were we happy about that. Other times at Convivium the service has had a strange vibe (I don't know how else to describe it), but on that night right before the Christmas holiday, being quiet, it was pleasant.
In the midst of a home renovation myself, I couldn't help but wonder at the finishing touches in the decor. Wrought iron, exposed brick and soft lighting had the ability to transport us to Spain or Portugal. It was as if the interior designer knew just when to stop before crossing the line into the land of the kitsch French bistro.
Convivium Osteria is located at 68 5th Ave, 718-857-1833.