Convivium Osteria should be somewhere else. You get to this Mediterranean restaurant via Fifth Avenue, a main artery in Brooklyn's Park Slope. But such a romantic place, decorated with copper pots and redolent of kitchens from a softer age, belongs off a leafy street, perhaps down a few steps or hidden behind a heavy wooden gate. It's utterly improbable to eat this food in this setting and see a bodega across the street. Such juxtapositions are the beauty, and weirdness, of life in New York.
We sipped our water, poured from a brass vase, and started in on the pulpo asado con judiones de la granja ($16). The baby octopus had been grilled, then tossed in a salad of red onion and celery slivers, tomatoes, and very large, very creamy white beans. A light olive oil finished everything off.
Our second appetizer, codorniz com figos secos e vinho do porto ($15), was a study in purples. The quail gets pan-roasted, then drenched with a port wine and fig reduction. The sweet fruit underscores the delicacy of the meat. Osterias specialize in simple food, but neither of our appetizers were simple. Instead, both displayed careful consideration of ingredients with an eye toward balance.
The intensity of colors continued into the next course, particularly with the gnocchi di spinaci e ricotta di pecora all'asiago ($17). These orbs arrived snowy from a sauce made of Italian ewe ricotta and Asiago cheese, but a bite revealed the bright green within, a mixture of spinach, a pinch of salt, and more cheese. Despite the intensity of the spinach, this dish was as milky as a Botticelli breast.
Lastly, we tried the malloreddus al sugo di salsicce con finocchietto selvatico ($18). If the gnocchi offered a take on the way tufts of grass poke through snow in early spring, the malloreddus flavored with wild fennel pollen depicted a sunrise in early summer, the sky lightening red. Sometimes the little pasta pricked, as if some had shown sentience and resisted the softening spell of the hot water. Or perhaps the staff just wanted to hustle us out to make sure our prime table was available for a later reservation. But we liked the Berkshire pork sausage, made on site, very much.
We had a great table nestled near the window, tucked around the bar, private and perfect for lingering looks and nuzzling kness. Other tables offer a more communal experience, with high-backed chairs and the ebb and flow of fellow diners' conversations. Go ahead and make a reservation: you'll be glad you did. With its barefaced rusticity and evocative food, Convivium Osteria is best for: a date that feels right.