Convivium Osteria

Rustic Park Slope, Brooklyn? I love restaurants that take you away from where ever you left as you walked through the door. From the outside Convivium Osteria is just another of the thousands of store fronts in New York, but inside is a nice little southern European-feeling oasis, sort of. The decor is highly stylized with tons of copperware hanging on the walls, dark wood reminding us of a time when Europe had trees, medievally-dim lighting from lanterns and a lamenting layer Madredeus' greatest hits just loud enough to provide a tiny bit of buffer between the conversations at each table.

The menu is a mixture of Spanish-, Portuguese- and Italian-influenced dishes. This seems great. I love all these cuisines and seems to me that you could give diners, especially a group of them, a really interesting experience. It's not as extreme as mixing Japanese and French, or whatever forced mix you can think of, but it's more subtle and perhaps a more natural triplet. Whatever the case, I like the idea.

Though the décor is faux-rustic, the food is refined and upscale. Traditional ingredients from each culture are employed to produce contemporary dishes using modern cooking techniques and presentation aesthetics. This is not a unique approach and, in fact, is done by many everywhere. The question is, to me, whether or not the dishes maintain the unique spirit of the original inspiration. Though the food is professionally prepared and can result in an appealing culinary experience, the dishes at Convivium Osteria do lack the emotion and personality of the cuisines from which they are said to be derived. But that's Ok. After having answered my own curiosity, I can move on and enjoy the result without worrying too much about the intention.

Codorniz com figos secos e vinho do Porto

Cordoniz, quail, is one of my favorites. My dad introduced quail into the family dinner repertoire when I was about nine years old and it was an immediate hit with the family, and especially with me. My jaw muscles tighten and my mouth waters just remembering those yummy little birds on the table. So, if I see it on the menu anywhere, it's an automatic order. The dish is quail, probably broiled, served over braised radicchio with sweet ripe fresh figs and a Porto wine sauce. The quail did taste like it had been fried - slightly oily - but the meat was tender and succulent. The braised radicchio was sweet or bitter, changing with each breath and bite, and tasted even better with a little of the Port wine sauce mixed in. The soft sweet figs were a nice accompaniment to the savory, slightly dark meat and the bitter radicchio, as was the sweet Port wine sauce. It was a good combination that worked best all on the same bite. I was hoping to see someone else eat the quail to see what they did with the bones. Me, I ate right through them, as I always do. Thankfully, they do remove the breast bone. The one thing about the presentation that I didn't like was the lack of color. It was all rather dark, and in an already dark room it just seemed too much.

Costoletas de borrego em crosta de pinhões com couve-flor

Borrego, lamb, is very common on restaurant menus in Portugal. Rack of lamb, not so much. Here, the rack of lamb was roasted covered on the outside with a layer of crushed pine nuts and serve with a Port wine reduction sauce and braised cauliflower with olives. The lamb was amazingly flavorful, deep and savory. "Cooked to perfection" is a cliché phrase that I read all the time, but I have to steal those words to describe this lamb readily. And it looked gorgeous with that bright pink center. As soon as the meat enters your mouth, the aroma and flavor alert your taste buds. The pine nut crust was a little bitter, and frankly the characteristic nutty, pine flavor was absent. I thought the meat could do without it. The Port wine sauce was OK - sweet and a little fruity - but it was not particularly interesting or important next to the lamb. The cauliflower with olives were also just Ok, and like the sauce did not do much to add to the experience of eating this wonderful lamb. Slightly braised, the vegetable would go from bitter to sweet in your mouth - just like the radicchio. The texture was appealing; cooked just enough to maintain a little bit of its crunchy nature, and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. This was one of the "Portuguese" dishes on the menu, though other then the use of Port wine in the sauce, I didn't find anything particularly "Portuguese" about it.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Restaurant to restaurant, most have the same usual boring dessert items. Cheesecake, crème brûlée, some fruity sorbet and chocolate cake. However, if it's flour-less chocolate cake then I'm excited. I love the rich and dense texture with intense and concentrated chocolate flavor. At Convivium Osteria, it's served with whipped cream, extra chocolate sauce and a not-too-sweet raspberry sauce. With a glass of Moscatel de Setúbal, it was... mmmm.

Lastly, Convivium has a really good wine list. Though the number of Portuguese wines is quite limited, those they do offer are interesting and quite good, and not usually seen in most restaurants. Especially good is the list of Portuguese dessert wines. Everybody knows Porto, but try a Colheita Port or one of the many Madeira wines or one of my favorites, Moscatel de Setúbal.

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Convivium Osteria

68 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11217
(718) 857-1833
www.convivium-osteria.com

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Mouth - Indie Food, Tasty Gifts