Friday, January 24, 2014

OSTERIA DI CIRCO: Sagra del Bollito Misto

To be sure,  my meal of choice would not normally be an assortment of boiled meat, but as the temperatures plummeted, these types of things become more and more appealing.  So on a (literally) frigid midwinter's night, under clear skies but a penetrating, single-digit chill, the Sagra del Bollito Misto held at the famous Osteria di Circo beckoned with undeniable belly-warming appeal.  A New York institution since 1996, Circo is the festive little sibling of world-reknowned Le Cirque.  Its playful decor and less formal atmosphere retain the grace and elegance for which the Maccioni family is famous, but imparts a festivity not only ambiance but in the menu itself.  Thus, this celebration of the classic Tuscan recipe, steeped in authenticity, comes just at the right time (the sagra, or festival, will be offered through the end of the month, at a thrillingly reasonable $49 per person, excluding tax and gratuity).

True to the  abundance typical of dining care of the  Maccioni family,  the Bollito wasn't the only course enjoyed.  You'll start with a bounty of affettati, featuring a hauntingly gamey Culatello di Zibello (the premier producer of this precious ham) and smooth house-made mortadella: both so tender and thinly-sliced so as to render chewing almost unnecessary.  Crumbly chunks of pungent grana paired exceptionally well with salty panzerotti, some fried to a satisfying crunch and others with a bit more doughy chew (I preferred the latter, where the flavor of the quality pasto came through).  Little pickles and candied fruit adorn the plate and impart festivity, as did the

 brilliant Lambrusco we enjoyed.  Jubilantly effervescent, this versatile wine would hold up as well against the summer's
 punishing humidity as it did to the
 sturdy winter fare, like the Tortellini Mamma Egi, Senora Egidiana's famous recipe of Lilliputian meat-filled tortellini bathing in a delicate, nourishing broth.

Tiny as they were, those tortellini didn't interfere with a pasta course, and this one was exceptional.  Floppy, oversize cappellacci were filled with a earthy, sweet puree of squash and topped with roasted cubes of more of the same, lubricated with nutty brown butter whose richness was cut by a zesty saba wine reduction, topped with crisp leaves of fried sage.    I wouldn't have argued with a larger portion of this delectable dish, but it's restrained size left room for the main affair.   Wide bowls soon arrived donning the anticipated bollito, a family recipe from Mamma Egi that blends her Tuscan and Bolognese heritage.  My favorite bites included morsels of the tender, salty chicken sausage: somewhat reminiscent of Spam (don't giggle), but in the best possible way.  A hulking knob of beef shank co-mingled with lean chicken breast, and a fatty, savory puck of cotechino.  Now, this dish, in and of itself, is hearty and substantial, but the real treat is the array of condiments provided to personalize and festoon each bite.  Frankly, without them, the broth lacked the voluptuousness that would've carried the dish without them.
  Like an Indian thali, small crocks of sauces and garnitures make up for any deficit: tiny cubes of candied citrus; a rustic whole-grain mustard; flaky, shimmering crystals of sea salt; a zesty Tuscan tomato sauce and (best of all) a
 snappy salsa verde rife with fresh herbs, minced pickles, flecks of chili bound in verdant olive oil.  Dollops of these condiments, especially the latter two, would make shoe leather taste grand.  Luckily, it had not so much work cut out for it.

Finally, we were bequeathed a lovely assortment of homemade biscotti, imbued with all the nostalgically Italian flavors: anisette, amaretto, hazelnut, along with intense fruit gelees.   And while gilding the lily a bit after all the hearty fare, a wine poached pear in an ethereally foamy zabaglione was one of my favorite courses.  The tender pear was lush and pert, swimming in the lush creaminess sprinkled with toasty browned sugar.  Alongside a tiny cup of expertly drawn espresso, it was a grand finale.  Grand, a quality that I've come to expect from anything with the Maccioni signature.

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