My dad somehow has got it into his head that Brooklyn is filled with mobsters. I mean, I guess it used to be in the 80s--which was the last time he was here. Apart from an incident involving him saying "Bada Bing" over and over in a cab and, I think, almost getting shot by the cabbie who menacingly kept asking him to repeat it, with which he complied jovially now matter how many times my mom and I told him to shut up, these illusions of me living in mobster-ville are fine. The point is, he was really intent on eating some Italian food while in WASPy Brooklyn.
I was happy to comply, since one of my favorite restaurants in New York just happens to be Italian and within "tourist walking distance" from my house (i.e. two blocks). Convivium Osteria is a weird little place on Fifth Ave. in North Slope. The front windows have a bunch of crap in them (wine barrels, wooden somethings, fake plants) so you can't really see in. While at first I was mystified by this, I get it now. Going to Convivium Osteria is like leaving Park Slope Brooklyn completely and entering some sort of Pan-Mediterranean paradise, and you really wouldn't want to spoil that by seeing some Park Slope mom roll by in Yoga pants.
Crap in the windows
First off, the host will speak Italian to you, whether you understand it or not. The waiter will joke with you in Portuguese, whether you understand it or not. Luckily, I have a vague grasp of both of these languages, but, even if you don't, you'll be fine. Just pretend they're saying whatever a waiter speaking in English would at that time in service.
There are three separate rooms in Convivium: the one by the door, the back room which is like a barn or something, and the wine cellar. The only room I don't like is the one by the door. But that's a thing I have. I've sat in the back before, and it was really cool--very rustic. However, we have a barn at home that my parents can go sit in whenever, so I figured the wine cellar was best.
The front room
Anyway, the food at this place is ridiculous. For an appetizer we had a huge pot of clams (cherry stone according to my mother) with chorizo (a family favorite). The broth was pleasantly spicy, and very buttery (I suspect) and supremely delicious. We were sad that we had acted like idiot Americans and eaten all our damn bread so we didn't have anything with which to sop up that glorious broth (in our defense, the olive oil was really good).
Good olive oil
For wine we had a Spanish Rioja that was around $37, I think. Basically, mom said "let's get a Rioja" and I said "ok" and the waiter just brought whatever with nothing more than an "I will get you wine." And then he laughed at my dad because he obviously had no choice in the matter. This is a great place if you are clueless with wine or even good with it, but trusting: just order your mains or whatever and tell the waiter you don't know what to get. With the endearing brusqueness of Europeans, they will just bring you something. And it will rule.
For said mains, I had Braised rabbit with prosciutto, olives and capers over polenta triangles (I'd never had rabbit before), my mother had Braised Berkshire pork baby back ribs with polenta (she's never had polenta before! what to they eat up in the great white north?), and dad had braised duck leg with black cherries over potatoes (they're big on braising here, and so am I). Sounds great, right? They were.
For dessert we had flourless chocolate cake (gooey and so good) but the real stars were the dessert wines. Yet again we just asked for dessert wines and they came back with something great. I had a port of some kind that was wonderfully full of stone fruits, and mom had...well...she went nuts over this: a 1927 dessert wine that seriously tasted so richly of raisins I couldn't believe there were any grapes in it. She (a raving raisin fanatic, apparently) kept the bottle (not that she drank the whole thing, just that her glass happened to be the last one out of it) after asking, of course. Dad just chilled out, extremely happy with the Rioja that he had no hand in picking.
We left happy and full, and I really cannot recommend this restaurant more. I know it looks weird and stodgy from the outside, but it honestly provides one of the best experiences I have had dining in NYC. Seriously.
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