After a long fall/winter hiatus of international vacations and pondering the fate of the free world, the DC crew headed over to a spot that had been on our list for a while, the highly touted French restaurant, Convivial. We also decided to come with a bigger crew and brave it for Restaurant Week, a bold decision given that it didn’t work out great last time. We were all pleasantly surprised that Restaurant Weekend at Convivial was legit.
Let’s start with menu size. In my experience, the typical menu for Restaurant Week has 6-10 items on it, and the participating restaurant then manages to botch most of their limited menu. Not Convivial though. Not only did they execute well throughout the meal, but they had an insane number of choices. So insane that our poor server had a hell of a time trying to explain their system to us. He kept saying we could “choose one category out of five”, a statement that was more confusing each time he repeated it. What he was apparently trying to say, which the menu also spelled out, was that we had the option to choose one item from three of five different categories. All in all 43 different dishes to choose from in your three course meal. So many choices that the menu came with its own lexicon, which was just so condescending that I was actually pretty into it. It was like we had our own personal French person to look down their nose at us.
All these different possible combinations made for some…interesting choices by some of my companions (see #6 for translation). Jane, in her first FDCDC, opted to go for the three grossest sounding dishes she could find (escargot spring rolls, veal tartare, and quail). She deservedly enjoyed her meal the least for going that route. Returning guest Charlie went for a borscht-cheese plate-dessert combination that just made me hungry on his behalf. I went for a fish-only trio. Everyone else got a pretty solid variety altogether; very few repeats, which meant I tried all of the things. Our only collective regret was that no one was bold enough to include the “bacon cheeseburger” in their meal. It just felt wrong at the time (but would have been so right).
Dinner began with drinks and a bread course. I don’t remember much about the drinks other than the the menu of fresh made juices. Becky ordered some sort of beet juice which, despite having many other fruits and veggies in it, just tasted like liquid beets. Everyone else either ordered a beer or just water because we had a few on a tail-end of a two day hangover (damn you, the-slow-march-of-time!). The bread was delicious and full of herbs, and I believe quite literally right out of the oven. As we were burning our faces off with the bread, we noticed this cute little window about 7-8 feet off the ground where the chef could spy on our corner of the dining room. Neat.
The first course came shortly after drinks were served, which for me meant a brandade croquette (which I liked to pronounce as rhyming with Band-Aid and probably caused many French chefs to roll over in their graves). Using my handy lexicon, I learned a brandade is whipped potato and salted cod. So basically a fish ball. It also looked remarkably similar to Becky’s appetizer, the tartiflette fritter, which was a fried ball with potato, bacon, and cheese. They even tasted pretty similar minus the red pepper sauce that came with mine (which ultimately broke the tie in favor of the croquette). So in summary, both balls of dough, both with potato, both fried, both requiring that stupid lexicon. In other words, was v thankful our server made sure we knew which was which.
Next up was the pickled rockfish, which was easily both a) the grossest sounding dish and b) most everyone’s favorite of the night. The fish itself was served cold with a really great brine, and was mixed in with green papaya, avocado, passion fruit, and radish. Bites alternated between sweet and sour, tender and crunchy, really good and really really good. I’m also a sucker for literally everything on that ingredient list, except for radishes I guess, because no one goes nuts for radishes. Unless the ingredient list was supposed to say “rad dish”, as that dish was indeed rad. This was one of the few dishes we ended up with multiples of, which meant everyone got to try this masterpiece. So many “oos” and that-thing-people-do-when-they-nod-their-head-in-approval-while-chewings.
My entree was a swordfish on a bed of herbs and lentils, marinated in a dijon mustard sauce. This one ended up being the one I was most looking forward to, but was honestly a little disappointing. The fish itself was cooked perfectly and the texture on the lentils was spot on, but I wasn’t super jazzed on the flavor. I think it needed a little spice to it, or more seasoning. Still very good though. Still 100% went into my tum tum. My expectations were perhaps unfairly set by the rockfish. Contrary to old saying, you can bring a rockfish to a swordfish fight.
Some other highlights to the meal:
- The zucchini roulade was basically like a rolled up veggie pizza loaded up with tomato, goat cheese, and pine nuts. Super light and delicious, although one of the ingredients was “sumac”, which I only remember from Boy Scouts as being a poisonous tree you shouldn’t touch. I tried some anyways. Am not dead yet, but will report back later if I do die.
- The rainbow trout was another super light fish dish, which really just highlighted that Convivial knows what’s up when it comes to cooking fish.
- The apple bread pudding…well, if that sounds good to you, you will like it because they made it perfectly.
- Mikaela, our sixth member and other returning FDCDC guest, also ordered fried chicken, which was actually pretty solid. Spicy, crispy, and super flavorful and juicy for a boneless fried chicken.
On the other end of the spectrum were most of the things Jane ate. The escargot spring rolls weren’t necessarily bad, but snails just have a hard time competing with, you know, animals that are good. They also came with this tasteless green dipping sauce that I am convinced was a cup of snail slime. The other dish that was just not good was the quail. I thought quail with pomegranate and brussels sprouts was actually a safe bet. That being said, the final ingredient was “duck gizzard confit,” which sounds like one of those gross things Frenchies eat in a pretentious manner, but still. The quail itself wasn’t bad, but whatever sprouts-gizzard-goop concoction underneath was just kinda narsty. Mostly it was a texture thing; mealy and slimy at the same time is not a good combo. Big whiff on that.
For those keeping score, we’ll call that 16.5 out of 18 dishes as being rated good to amazing, so Convivial did a more than adequate job of filling us up. We all left very full; even Charlie and his cheese plate was very satisfied. That number of solid dishes translates to about a 3.67 out 4 on the om nom scale.