Although the critics embraced his new menu at Alto, Michael White wasn’t happy with less than raves for his complex creations at L’Impero in Tudor City. He and partner Chris Cannon bolted the door for two weeks and invented Convivio—new look, pared-down prices, a $59 four-course prix fixe, and a more rustic style for the Southern Italian dishes the chef is smitten with. He’s dealing with the same essentials—eggplant, artichoke, octopus, quail, sweetbreads—but the look and taste are dramatically different, and I can’t wait to taste more. White welcomes us with a round of savory sfizi, $4 to $6 snacks in tiny bowls—hot peppers stuffed with Sicilian anchovy and mozzarella. Radishes on a heavenly anchovy cream. Saffron-risotto croquettes. Our demanding foursome instantly succumbs to antipasti: crunchy fried sardines with smoked cheese and pickled zucchini, quail grilled in vino cotto, and the chef’s sweetbread piccata. Housemade orecchiette with tripe, sausage, and wild fennel, and the fusilli with pork shoulder and a rich melt of caciocavallo cheese are knockouts. I do have a few nits to pick: Too many pickled tastes, slightly dry guinea hen, the lighting a bit gloomy. And Israeli couscous is no substitute for the classic grain in the Trapanese seafood couscous. But excitement definitely scents the air at Convivio, smartly refitted to suit the moment.
45 Tudor City Pl., nr. E. 42nd St.; 212-599-5045