Part of the hard life of being a food writer and photographer is going to check out all the new dining venues in the city. So, where did I head to this time? A spot that is already exploding with popularity: Convivial, a French-American dining addition to the Shaw neighborhood. My meal began with a fantastic French red wine and a detailed description of all the dishes on the menu that are especially made for “vegetable-lovers,” directly from ever-so-charming Chef Cedric Maupillier.
After that I sampled each one of the delectable dishes he pointed out. My absolute favorite was the mini latkes, where crunchy latkes were topped with mounds of shredded celery root and crowned with a crispy sunchoke chard. It was a brilliant trifecta of root vegetables, all sweet and savory and earthy. A close second was the duck egg beignets, which were fried cylinders of egg, delicately placed on top of small bowl of piperade, which is a Basque tomato sauce flavored with Basque peppers. The crunchy beignets are adorned with sprigs of rosemary. The crunchy texture of the beignets is perfect for savory, chunky sauce. Both of these dishes were in the “nibbles” section of the menu, which were followed by a series of hot and cold “medium-sized” dishes. As Maupillier says, these dishes are bigger than tapas but smaller than entrees at a steakhouse. They are designed to be shared and big enough that everyone will get more than one bite.
From the cold section, I indulged in a chickpea pancake, topped with a sweet beet, shaved fennel, and fried beet twigs, making for a dish that was both looked and tasted divine. The leeks dijonaise were similarly epic, with sauteed leeks served in a creamy dijon mustard sauce that reminds Maupillier of the dishes he grew up eating. Next, I switched to hot dishes and tried the squash vadouvan, a French dish that utilizes the spices of the East. The spice blend originated from the French colonization of the Puducherry section of India. The dish features a gorgeous olive cake that is piled high with soulful squash and mustard greens, and a handful of shredded coconut. The vadouvan spice blend is what really makes the dish, by infusing the dish with flavors of garlic and onion and mustard seeds.
I was too full for dessert but you can never be too full for dessert so I ordered three. I mean, come on, Chef is famous for his desserts. They were all damn good. Like crazy good. The mini apple pie is a sweet and crunchy and perfection. It is the best of France and America and apples. The milk chocolate creme brulee is silk smooth, and built like a piece of art. And finally the sticky toffee pudding. It’s warm and tender and buttery and oh-so-delicious. I wanted to lick the plate. I may have.
And the icing on the cake? Maupillier’s parents happened to be dining at the restaurant that night. Chef was beaming like a schoolboy, having his parents come halfway across the world to dine at this magnificent restaurant that he opened. I can’t even imagine how proud they must have been; especially since it was clear across the board of diners: Convivial is juste merveilleux.