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.
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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