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Take the rock shrimp and wild rice cake. It's not a cake, really, since nothing binds the ingredients. But I can't get too worked up over the nomenclature when the results are this luscious. Rock shrimp, which swim off the Florida coast, are one of nature's joys, with a sweet flavor and firm, crawfish-like texture. (On my last Florida trip, I went to a seafood restaurant and ate four dozen.) Bloom teams several specimens with wild rice, a crunchy slaw of apple, jicama and carrot, and a robust horseradish cream sauce. The combination of flavors smacks you right in the snout.
A chafing dish, dreamily layered with asparagus, organic leeks, ham and French comte, one of the world's great cheeses that's especially good melted, is beguiling. The assortment of grilled veggies, meanwhile, shows off the kitchen's commitment to quality. The carrots, leeks, beets, turnips, mushrooms and roasted peppers will remind you of what vegetables used to taste like before they were bred for shelf life. The platter's other components--a garlicky homemade hummus, wheatberry salad and mozzarella--furnish additional gilding.
I ordered the mozzarella with tomato to see what kind of tomato I'd get in February. Convivo passed the test--this juicy beauty could have made me believe the calendar said July. The chef showed imagination, too, by forgoing the usual basil garnish. Instead, he devised a perky olive relish, and tossed on some fabulous greens that tasted as if they were just pulled out of the earth.
7000 N. 16th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85020-5547
Region: North Phoenix
The one less-than-stellar starter? That would be the mussels. There are certainly enough of them, at least 18. But the tomato-saffron broth they floated in was too subtle for my taste. These bivalves need more punch.
The main dishes are as tempting as the appetizers. Your group's meat-and-potatoes guy will enjoy the knockout grilled flank steak, infused with a snappy lime and soy sauce marinade, and teamed with hashed Yukon Gold potatoes and wild mushrooms. Exceptional braised short ribs, meaty and tender, coated with a rich, tart/sweet tomato sauce show how an accomplished chef can turn a homey, old-fashioned dish into something vigorous and compelling. Wine-braised lamb shank is on every menu in town, and this model compares with any of them. But you won't find niftier sides--French lentils goosed up with mustard, butternut squash, and griddled polenta--anywhere else. Compared to the beef and lamb, the grilled pork chop seems sort of ordinary. But there's nothing ordinary about the outstanding side of sauteed cauliflower and red peppers. The chef should consider putting together an entree plate composed entirely of the veggie sides.
Poultry fans can also find a thrill. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd rave over chicken, but Convivo's rustic poussin gets my vote for pullet surprise. It's a whole roasted spring chicken, almost miraculously juicy and browned just right, paired with garlic cheese mashed spuds and cubes of butter-soaked butternut squash. If it's simple perfection you're looking for, your search has ended.
The duck also has its charms, but this bird isn't in the same poultry league as the poussin. Meaty slices of breast are pan-seared, fanned across the plate and coated with a pungent but somewhat one-dimensional molasses-black pepper sauce. The combo side of broccoli, baby bok choy and caramelized sweet potato (whose skin should have been removed) gives the platter a boost.
The two fish dishes I sampled demonstrate the chef's facility with ocean fare. Pan-seared Chilean sea bass is practically the Platonic ideal sprung to life. It's gorgeously moist, lightly adorned with a crust of coriander and fennel seeds, smoothed with a tangy citrus vinaigrette, and perched on a bed of arugula and mizuma. Once again, the marvelous veggie accompaniment--crispy parsnip, caramelized yam and a saute of broccoli, mint and tomato--is practically good enough to get star billing.
The chef also knows how to handle strawberry grouper. Too bad the menu writer doesn't. It's too much to expect folks to know that it's a species of grouper, not a method of preparation. The name turned off several diners at my table (fish and strawberries? Ugh), and I bet they weren't the only ones. Like all grouper, it's a mild, meaty, flaky fish, very popular in Florida and in the Caribbean, its native habitat. For understandable reasons, you don't see it much here in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. The kitchen prepares it simply, grilled with a touch of thyme, to let the delicate flavor come through.
Desserts are the domain of Pat Bloom, the chef's wife. Although she's not a trained pastry chef, she has proved to be a very quick study. Apple raisin cobbler is just right, with the apples cooked all the way through. It's served with an astonishing homemade fig ice cream that almost had me weeping with happiness. (The other ice creams I devoured--chocolate, pistachio, coffee almond--are also good enough to be sold retail.) Ricotta-cranberry cheesecake, drizzled with a tangy tangelo sauce, is deftly done, not too light and not too sweet. The warm flourless chocolate square is an intense experience, especially once you spoon on the rich espresso cream sauce. Creme brulee, tarted up with sun-dried blueberries, is a custardy treat. And the maple-walnut bread pudding disappeared so fast that I couldn't get in a sufficient number of bites to render an informed opinion.