If I was to be honest with everyone, I should take this moment to admit that I have absolutely no experience with French food. Other than your typical pastries, I know virtually nothing about French cuisine. I knew I had quite the challenge on my hands but I had no idea how labor intensive this weeks To Cook or Book would be.
Convivial has been garnering much hype and buzz. Serving French American food, Convivial is located in Shaw, home to numerous new and buzz worthy restaurants. With a rather unassuming sign outside, we were greeted by the man, the myth, the legend himself, Chef Cedric (it was already at this point I already wanted to surrender ). The restaurant itself consists of beautiful, modern decor and spacious, open seating. Our server was well educated with the menu, offering plenty of suggestions and tips (I felt like all the staff were knowledgeable and more than willing to help patrons ). The service overall was great and I think that’s what stood out to me the most. The atmosphere was classy without being conceited, friendly without being overbearing, and helpful without being obnoxious. The staff moved through the floor with ease, consistently ensuring that customers were given just the right amount of attention.
The menu is not necessarily tapas style. The dishes straddle the line between entree and tapas. We ordered four dishes between two people and even with a full house, the dishes came at a timely manner. We couldn’t wait to delve into each one of our plates starting with the Pickled Rockfish and the Duck Egg Beignet. The Rockfish was fresh and provided a nice balance to our hot plates. The beignet is not what most people think of when they think of beignet’s, it was innovative and unique. Rolled with duck egg and it had a delicious side of piperade that complimented the nice crispy exterior.
Then came in the Cassoulet: my goliath in this week’s food challenge. The breadcrumb crust was a beautiful golden brown that provided a nice crunch to the warm, juicy meats. The flavors were light and delicate. Which I thought was essential. This could easily have been too heavy of dish but because the meats could melt in your mouth, we were able to easily finish the entire bowl. The dish was filling without leaving us uncomfortable and wanting to take a nap before catching a cab home.
With such a well respected and talented chef helming Convivial, I had no choice but to go big or go home and pull out none other than the legendary Julia Childs. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is an intimidating, lengthy, and at times overwhelming look into French cuisine. Like I have previously mentioned in past posts, my lack of culinary expertise normally means I’d prefer to have as many pictures as possible and unfortunately for me there were none (I did find an old video on youtube to help me understand the more technical aspects of the dish). I first noticed that the ingredients are not listed at the beginning, rather, they can be found on the left hand margin scattered throughout the recipe. The actual process was long and tedious, overall cook time was almost 5 hours. I was incredibly overwhelmed, and even got frustrated at times. There were
even a couple of moments when I wanted to call it quits. I miraculously carried through with the meal (with an extra set of hands – thanks Russ) and was proud of what I had accomplished. The dish serves up to 12 people, so we had a lot of leftovers which we could freeze for future meals.
The final product was underwhelming. The golden crust was beautiful and provided the perfect crunch, however, the mix of pork rinds in the stew didn’t contribute to the flavor and left the texture sloppy and greasy. The biggest downfall however, was the large amount of dirty cookware following the cooking. After spending five hours cooking, the last thing I wanted to do was wash an ominous mountain off dirty plates, pots, and pans.
To Cook or Book?
Convivial’s cassoulet was the definition of comfort food. Served in a piping hot dish with just the right amount of meat. It left me feeling satisfied. My home-cooked version however did not fare as well. The taste was bland and the texture left me unable to finish my entire plate. It also hit my ego quite hard when I consider how much time I spent prepping and cooking. So this week I’d say book at Convivial.
Have you had a chance to try out Convivial? Or how about taken a bite into French cuisine with the help of Julia Child? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear about other people’s adventures!
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I
Author: Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle
Hardcover: 716 pages