Rome Having heard good things about Il Convivio for years, we thought to give it a try–a splurge–in the hopes of finding authentic alta cucina, despite the loss of its Michelin star. The romantic story of 3 brothers, committed to seasonality and local ingredients, who come to the big city of Rome from Ascoeli-Piceno and achieved vaunted success had its modicum of appeal.
Founded in 1990, the restaurant has had lots of time to practice its trade in the provision of expensive food. As first -timers wanting exposure to the full talents inside the kitchen and also wanting to replicate an experience most travelers might seek out, we opted for the Degustaziones of both food (98 euros) & wine (50 euros). This required that everyone at the table get the same thing, and the waiter specifically pushed the black truffle option with the pasta course (12 euros additional), and we said “yes.”
One would hope that Convivio-Troiano’s ambiance would be convivial, and it was. The waiters clad in dark suits created a warm greeting as they quickly answered the door bell just before 9 p.m., taking coats and scarves to the wardrobe sitting to the side of a separate reception area. Vaulted ceilings, occasional art, and soothing pastel colors created a relaxing environment. The waiters pulled out our chairs, which were more than sufficiently comfortable.
An aperitivo was immediately offered, which we declined, and then came the Water List, allowing one to choose from perhaps 20 different bottled waters. We selected one from nearby–Frascati–called Dolomia. It was fine.
Now begins the sad part of the story: the food and ultimately, the service. On fine dining occasions, when one is spending a lot of money for something seemingly special, you want the experience to be good; you’re predisposed to liking everything. However, even with this impetus it was hard to be enthusiastic about the antipasti at Convivio. Slices of bread on a plate, which to the eye appeared all the same, were described by the waiter as actually being five or six different types of bread with different flavorings. The taste test showed them to be all the same bread dough, baked all in the same shape, with the same crust, etc., but with different flavorings added to make them “different.” Uninspired, to say the least. The bread sticks were good, but bread sticks does not a meal make.
From here on, each dish arrived at the table lukewarm, never approaching hot. The amuse bouche (also served to nearby tables not having the tasting menu): A nondescript stuffed, fried olive on the end of a bamboo stick served with overpoweringly oyster flavored, watery mayonnaise (fata en casa), didn’t make a great first impression.
Next came a slice of head-cheese sausage (also fata en casa), equally robbing us of flavor as the stuffed olive, except here the texture wasn’t great either. The sausage came with a minuscule branch of raw broccoli and one pomegranate seed–one seed!
The “Gorgonzola cheese crème brulèe with pear and coriander, water ice of porto,” was okay–a nice twist on classic combinations and flavors–however the pear balls were under-ripe, hard, and flavorless. The best dish by far was the sea bass with tomatoes, taggiasche olives, salina’s capers and basil, though like everything on the tasting menu, portion size was quite small: maybe 1/2 ounce of fish.
The pasta appeared: somewhere between a spaghetti alla gricia and a carbonara, which paled in comparison with the high quality pasta served so commonly at so many other Rome restaurants. Pasta is the obvious strong suit of any Roman meal–and this one failed. Not to mention the waiters never offered grated cheese, as they did for other tables, and they forgot the truffles we had so specifically ordered! In fact, we could not imagine that spaghetti all gricia was the dish that was supposed to come with truffles. We waited.
The secondi was supposedly “orange scented guinea fowl leg stuffed with meat, olives and traditional vinegar sauce,” though we’re not quite sure what we got. It was tender and stuffed, no orange flavor whatsoever, no “sauce” to speak of, and with a texture like pork loin. Portion size remained tiny.
When they then began bringing the “pre-dessert” we asked about the truffle dish. Our current waiter–who had not taken the original order–disappeared. After several minutes, we had to ask again. The original order-taking waiter arrived and said sorry, that he had written it down, and that it was the kitchen’s fault for not making it. Did we want something now?
No, we did not.
Dessert was absolutely pathetic–some kind of orange pudding served with rectangles resembling the fried flour tortilla strips from Taco Bell– a culmination to a very expensive, completely underwhelming meal with utter disregard for detail by both the kitchen and the front of the house.
Then came the real culmination as the chef–presumably one of the three fratelli Troiani–did his perfunctory “Hi, I’m the chef” walk around to the dining tables. This was the wrong thing to do. There was never any attempt or offer to make up for the truffle fiasco, the poor quality of the food, its tepidness, or its lack of flavor. We told him that his own waiters were blaming his kitchen for the truffle mistake and that in general we were far from satisfied. It all turned into a very disagreeable end to a very disappointing meal, with the waiter, the chef, and the patron all arguing with one another tableside.