The chef-owner of one of Shaw’s most popular restaurants talks about his Gallic twist on fried chicken, classic cocktails and the surrounding neighborhood.
A charming accent reveals Cedric Maupillier’s roots in the South of France. But the ambitious chef (also the force behind Adams Morgan’s Mintwood Place) recently became an American citizen, and the menu at his Shaw bistro borrows liberally from the cuisine of both countries. What’s the secret to his popular Franco-American blend?
Why call your restaurant Convivial?
CM: The word spelled the same in French and English. And I was thinking of the dictionary definition of convivial – “relating to, occupied with or fond of feasting, drinking and good company.”
How would you describe what’s on the plate here?
CM: It’s a place that emphasizes the food of both my home country and my new country, the U.S. It’s democratized fine dining, but in a way that’s simplified and from the heart. These are classic recipes with a twist, and we don’t put too many fingers on the plate. We serve French bouillabaisse, but it’s made from Chesapeake blue catfish; our escargots are served in a pastry blanket [think spring rolls].
Convivial’s signature dish has turned out to be fried chicken coq au vin. What’s the scoop with that?
CM: I decided to take the best chicken dishes from both France and the U.S. It’s inspired by Korean chicken too. In this country, people need a little bit of whimsy. It gets them talking and keeps them interested.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
CM: I like our potato latke with dried lamb. It’s got layers of textures and flavors, starting with a crunchy potato pancake topped with shaved celery root and finished with a salty lamb prosciutto.
The bar is popular here, and well, convivial. What did you have in mind?
CM: It’s not mixology craziness, but a place where we are reintroducing classics – good Manhattans, the Grasshoppers Grandma used to love. And with wine, we just serve French and American and try to have them at good price points. Nothing’s over $100 a bottle.
What were you going for with the decor?
CM: I wanted it to be modern with no artifice. So we used clean-lined wood, comfortable chairs and lots of sound-proofing. The only things that stand out are the light fixtures, which I think look like Christmas lights every day!
What do you think about what’s happening in Shaw?
CM: I didn’t know it was on fire when I was planning Convivial. It’s such a work in progress, but in a few years, it’s just exploded. There are so many restaurants opening up, and it’s exciting. I feel like I’ve won my bet!
You also live in the neighborhood. Where do you go when you aren’t cooking here at Convivial?
CM: I get coffee every morning at Compass Coffee. They roast the beans right in front of you. And I love to go have a beer at Dacha Beer Garden. When I feel a little fancy, I’ll go to the bar at Kinship and order a nice glass of wine and a couple of dishes.
DC’s hot dining scene boasts many other restaurants, including other exciting eateries in Shaw and around the city.