Picture: Leeks Dijonnaise – one of the new classics of D.C. dining.
Last Updated: 6/3/2020
Current Status: Convivial is doing Lunch and Dinner service. They have opened their pretty decently-sized patio, so you can reserve a spot for sit-down. They continue to do take-out and delivery. They are also doing wine and cocktails to go. Based on my take-out order early in the stay-at-home, they are sustaining a high level despite the circumstances.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: April 2019
Convivial attempts to create a warm environment for serious food, and it succeeds. The space is two large rooms bridged by a lively, but not boisterous, bar area. In warm months, there is outdoor seating surrounded by the glow of bulb-lit trees. On a weekend night, there is a buzz in the air – and the place can be accurately described as convivial. Considering how well it does with everything else – the space, the bar, the cocktails, the interesting wine list and the rest – it is a bold assertion to claim it is secondary to the food, but it is true. From top to bottom, Convivial pays attention to the elements of a great restaurant, with cooking being central.
Chef/partner Cedric Maupillier has moved from one notable D.C. restaurant to another (Maestro, Citronelle, Central, Mintwood Place). At each recent stop, the cooking has been a little more interesting. At Convivial, he is liberated from channeling Michel Richard at Central or being a skilled craftsman at Mintwood, to being a creative force able to pursue his own vision. He will not pound your palate with salt, butter and other tricks. He will build a dish of components that will be even more interesting than the sum of its parts. The results have won broad praise from the culinary cognoscenti. The menu has morphed a little from cutting-edge, shared plates a couple years ago to more traditional app/entrée format now. Along with that change, a few more “safe” dishes are in the mix. This place has gone from being “not for everyone” because of its edginess, to a place where “everyone can find something,” including those of us looking for something others might find “challenging.” Considering the care that goes into constructing the dishes, one suggestion is that the crazier the dish sounds the better it probably tastes. The other suggestion is that if it is rooted in the French tradition like quiche, leeks dijonnaise, or duck breast a L’Orange, then you are likely to be pleased – although it may not be exactly what you are expecting.
The wine list has heavy representation from the west coast and France, with most bottles less than $100. There are gems to be found, so don’t be afraid to ask. The service is good and settled in. The bar is well-stocked and cocktails come out consistent and well-made.
D.C. is lucky that Maupillier decided to be brave and open this place. It deserves the same warm feelings that it is attempting to create for others. Traffic seems to be picking up over the last year. With San Lorenzo, Corduroy, and Kinship nearby, what was off the beaten path in DC is starting to look like a well-established trail of excellence marked by immensely talented chefs.
2.5 Tom: 3 Stars (See, that’s not so hard!)