The Bitches can’t get enough of Cedric Maupillier, as he combines three attributes that make us ladies weak in the knees. First up, he’s French, which is immediately evident in his charismatic demeanor and heavily accented English.
Second, the man can cook—his incredibly successful first restaurant, Mintwood Place, has hosted the Obamas and received accolades from nearly all dining critics, Bitches included.
Lastly, the Chef is a man’s man—bearded, strong, direct, and unapologetically confident in his cuisine, his business, and his vision.
Tonight, Cedric opens his second restaurant, Convivial, in Shaw. We got him on the phone for a few moments to hear about his journey to tonight’s opening and the restaurant the neighborhood’s been waiting for.
Convivial opens tonight. Tell me a bit about the vision behind the restaurant.
We opened Mintwood Place almost four years ago. I’ve always wanted my own restaurant—where I would be a majority owner. Saied Azali, who is the majority owner at Mintwood Place, is my business partner at Convivial. I wanted to be the majority owner so I can control everything from the size of the sign to the size of the trashcans in the bathrooms.
It’s a little bit selfish, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it myself and translate the vision in my mind—for a comfortable restaurant where everyone is welcome—into reality.
Tell us about the space—how does it differ from Mintwood Place?
I wanted something different from Mintwood Place is like a modern salon—an urban, rustic bistro with a lot of reclaimed materials. Convivial is a cleaner, leaner version of Mintwood Place. It has clean lines, fewer details on the walls, and the light beams and shadows create a warm atmosphere.
I spent a lot more time looking at the sound-proofing of this space, since that’s always been a big problem in many restaurants. I wanted soft sound in the restaurant—so we added a sound proof ceiling and the wall of the restaurants are covered in the felt, which also helps with the noise.
Roadside is the landlord of the building—they’ve been very nice to us since day one. We’re pleased to work with them.
The neighborhood has welcomed us—they’ve been patient with the delay and seem to be excited that the menus are in the windows and the doors are opening!
It’s a modern American café. Convivial, by definition, means related to, or fond of feasting, drinking and good company. We tried to emphasize that to our partner in the project—we wanted the place to feel accessible with some refinement.
We spent a lot of time creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.
Now, tell us about the food and the menu.
As for the food and drinks, we followed the same philosophy for the name of the restaurant. Convivial is a word you can find in a French dictionary and an American dictionary—the same goes for the food and wine.
The food and wine program is focused on the French and American. The French, for my heritage, and the American for my new adopted country.
The menu features medium-sized food plates, with six categories. There is no appetizer, main course section—the portions are all roughly the same size. You’ll be extremely satisfied with two or three plates. But, if you want to just grab a cocktail at the bar you can try a dish or two, too.
As for the categories, we offer cold and hot dishes, with three categories in each: vegetables, fish, and meat. Plus, cheese and desserts
You can find a dish like escargot in a blanket, or maybe latke with celery roots and lamb prosciutto.
What are the dishes that have been popular thus far?
The cauliflower Blancmange with cauliflower Tabouleh, and fresh herb salad. It’s like a panna cotta, with cooked cream, laid with a Tabouleh made with cauliflower, and finished with an herb salad of mint, tarragon, dill, and parsley.
Another popular dish is the pickled rockfish. We take the rockfish from the Chesapeake Bay and we serve it on a green papaya remoulade and fresh passion fruit figs and winter radish.
We do a veal tartare.
The highest price on any dish on the menu is $22, and that’s the the veal blanquette with black truffle.
What are the hours? Will you serve brunch?
We open at 5 p.m. and close at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We close on 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays and close on 9 pm on Sunday.
We’ll be closed for three days over Christmas so I can cook for my entire family, who are coming in from France.
Starting in January, we will open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and open 7 days a week. We want it to be a comfortable place where you can come and stay for breakfast and lunch—if you want to come read the newspaper, you can use it as an extension of your living room.
We hear there’s a patio!
Yes, come spring, we will open a 50-seat patio and open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tell us about the wine list and the cocktail menu.
Justin Guthrie is our General Manager who curated wine list and cocktail program.
The wine list is French and American selections only. The American selections are only grapes that are indigenous to France. No Tempranillo, no Nebiolo. Just American wines with grapes from France.
We offer some classic examples of American and French wines. If I have California Cabernet we found one that’s very representative of that type of wine. We also found some esoteric odd balls, like a Petite Syrah, that are unusual but really good.
The most important thing about the wine list is that every bottle is under $110. And we picked some really great wines without them being too ubiquitous—we didn’t want anything that you could find at the grocery store, which is hard to do when you’re staying under $110.
Our cocktail program is really, really nice. We’re doing 50 drinks, which are all classics. We hand-cut our ice—crystal clear, big blocks of ice that we cut every day. We chill our glasses with liquid nitrogen, which is unique.
We have some amazing drinks on the menu. My head bartender and Justin both worked with Sacha Petrovsky of Milk & Honey in New York.
We have Grasshopper—something that your grandmother might drink but that’s also really quite good. It’s made with Crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and milk, and served in a coupe glass.
We also serve a Flip, which has a whole egg in it. It’s really creamy—almost like an Eggnog. Another fun one is the Clover Club, which is made with gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and an egg white.
Some of the classic drinks like the Old Fashioned, a Daquiri, a Pisco Punch, have also been really popular.
What are you most proud of with the opening of Convivial?
It was my dream as a young chef to have a restaurant of my own—I put a lot of savings. I worked every day of my career to save my pennies. After working and saving, I went to the bank and said I wanted to open a restaurant. I told them I wanted something with finesse in the design, food, and drinks—not fine dining but with finesse.
I never stopped, and I’ll keep working until the doors open tonight. I’m a little bit anxious—but I’m very excited.
I also surround myself with talented people—from the Sous Chef to the front of the house.
I’m proud of being able to do this—to do something that is very unusual, very personal.