Paloma – Tequila, Grapefruit, Lime, Simple Syrup
Bees Knees – Gin, Lemon, Honey
House Herb Bread – Olive Oil
Potato Chips – Mushroom, Vinegar, Onion Dip
Salted Cod Croquttes – Bell Pepper-Clam Aioli
Parisian Gnocchi – Squash, Apple, Sage
Maryland Blue Crab Roll – French Fries, Pickle, Split Toasted Bun
Fried Chicken – “Coq au Vin”
Bartlett Pear Shortcake – Air-Whipped Mousse, Sponge Cake, Almond
Floating Island – Poached Meringue, Crème Anglaise, Caramelized Almond
Hot Sticky Toffee Pudding – Maple Ice Cream
Once again returning to Shaw, late 2015 through 2016 quite a boom for the neighborhood in terms of dining, it was just past 5:25 in the evening that three guests entered Convivial, the adjective defined as “friendly, lively and enjoyable” a fitting title for the restaurant owned and operated by Chef Cedric Maupillier.
Located on O-Street and exceedingly popular among locals for both Happy Hour and Weekend Brunch, Chef Maupillier’s time under the guidance of Michel Richard imbuing his Food and Beverage program with a similar sort of French-American whimsy while the seemingly boxy building is filled with the legend’s ‘joie de vivre’ beginning at a bar standing two-deep on a Thursday, it was immediately upon checking in that guests were offered the choice of inside or patio, the small area off to the Bar’s right proving both quiet and comfortable.
The second stop of the trip describing their menu as “medium” or “mid-sized” dishes as opposed to the ubiquitous “small plates,” an odd term that has waiters and waitresses recommending “maybe two dishes per person” as though people no longer understand the idea of Appetizers and Main Courses after so many years of being coaxed in the other direction, it was with a team of one server and one young woman in training that orders were taken, the Happy Hour Specials from the bar not offered to those at tables regardless of time, though not really a big deal as it would have only saved the party perhaps six dollars.
Rooted in the French Bistro but edgy enough to keep those looking for something a little different intrigued while still offering plenty of options for those with more timid palates, it was with two classic Cocktails in hand that diners enjoyed soft Bread served with Olive Oil while waiting for first courses to arrive, the housemade Chips dusted with earthy aromatics good on their own and all the better with dip that was aromatic but not too pungent while the Brandade was fried crisp without being oily, the Salt Cod creamy and soft with a bit of kick added by briny Bell Pepper Aioli.
Growing louder by the minute, a vast majority of thee crowd gathered at the Bar, one can imagine that Convivial becomes unbridled joyfulness during later hours as the Cocktails and Wine add up, but thankfully those dining early enough are spared from such as service is both friendly and expedient, a second round of plates delivered just after 6:00pm featuring a generous $23 Crab Roll served on a split-top roll alongside a cone of Fries while the seasonal Gnocchi made of Choux, not Potatoes, was crisp yet yielding with textural elements added by baked Squash and toasted Pumpkin Seeds.
Passing on the Snakehead Fish Sticks and confit Duck Gizards in anticipation of a second dinner to come but unwilling to forgo Maupillier’s signature Fried Chicken “Coq au Vin,” the crispy Bird no doubt perfected during his time with Richard and covered with Red Wine Reduction, Lardons, Carrots and Onions, it can only be said that the dish is every bit as good as rumors have suggested though perhaps not quite as memorable as the Île Flottante with candied Almonds in a bath of Crème Anglaise, easily the best of three Desserts though the airy Pear Shortcake and Sticky Toffee Pudding with a sizable ball of Maple Ice Cream each also justified the stomach space.