45 Tudor City Place, New York NY 10017 (at 42nd Street, b/n 1st and 2nd Avenue); map); 212-599-5045; convivionyc.com
Service: Effusive and professional
Setting: Modern room with soft lighting is especially salubrious during the day
Compare to: Alto, Marea
Price: $28 for two courses, $12 each additional course
Convivio has always been the most accessible—both in terms of price and mood—of Michael White and Chris Cannon's restaurants. While the vaultlike confines of Alto and the glittery new seafood-centric Marea are serious fine-dining restaurant aimed at captains of industry, Convivio seems much more like a neighborhood restaurant.
It offers a more rustic, Southern Italian cuisine—the type that I bet White himself probably prefers to eat over even his own rococo offerings.
At dinner, $62 gets you four courses from a lengthy menu. But that is far more food than one could eat at lunch and still be expected to function for the rest of the day—making the $28 two-course lunch they started offering last week a compelling proposition. You choose between an antipasti and a pasta selection from the menu, and then a secondi, with the option to add a course for $12. No matter what you choose, you will eat well.
Antipasti selections include a viscous bean soup laced with rosemary and pork belly, an earthy chicken liver crostini served with tart marsala onions, and an expertly grilled quail with pancetta and apples. I cannot resist the stracciatella—a deconstructed pizza featuring a milky buratta cheese, tangy tomato with crusty and charred country bread. All are wonderful, but it is hard to argue against the polpetinne, some of the finer pork meatballs I've had.
But pasta is where there menu really shines. And despite some enticing offerings, I can never order anything but the fusilli—with a pork shoulder ragu doused in a creamy caciocavallo cheese. The main courses are no less tasty. I skipped the seafood selections—at Marea, I'll opt for White's aquatic expressions, but at Convivio I want something more earthy and land bound, like the meaty Colarado lamb chops or the perfectly seared Creekstone flatiron steak.
View more dishes in the slideshow »
And if you splurge for dessert, I'd point you either toward a terrific torta—a light almond cake topped with mascarpone crema, served alongside a mixed berry gelato—or an affogato.
There are other charms to dining at Convivio during lunch, aside from the great food and bargain prices. The sun streams in through the windows, creating a serene mood; and while the place may be busy, it is not jam-packed as it is at night, when it seems that the whole neighborhood dines there. And who can blame them?