Saturday, July 19, 2014


This wasn't my first time to Circo, nor will it be my last.  It was, however, a visit experiencing Circo at the top of its game:  Chef Alfio Longo balances the rusticity of his upbringing in a small town outside of Florence with a worldly resume of cooking experience, creating an ingredient-driven Tuscan menu that showcases elegant but soulful Italian cuisine.    Their summer al fresco veranda opens up ontp the relatively quiet side street of 55th, making it an absolutely ideal destination during this so-far mild summer.  To be sure, I've never had a bad meal at Circo, but now with Chef Longo at the helm, it seems to have really hit its stride.  Circo is beautiful restaurant inside, its whimsical circus decor complemented by the immaculate attention to detail from its proprietors, the gracious and iconic Maccioni family.  But on one of the few gorgeously temperate summer evenings that New York offers up every season, a table outside and a new summer menu elevated the experience even further.

I don't know what was more beautiful: the twinkling lights glowing through the chilled blue water goblets, or the velvety blue sky just starting to show a handful of faint summer stars.  But soon a bubbling glass of prosecco would arrive with its own kind of sparkle, and a basket of warm focaccia and crisp, spindly breadsticks.  We started with the Mare Nostrum, a substantial composition of exquisitely fresh octopus and squid grilled a la plancha, garnished with sweet, pristine halves of cherry tomato and arugula fronds, the plate daubed with colorful, flavorful sauces and a striking contrast of squid ink.  A small crostino, crisp

 and buttery, held a garlicky mince of sauteed clam, providing a perfect sampling of the fruits of a Tuscan sea.

Circo offers an impressive array of housemade pastas, and knowing it would be hard to choose from between temptations, also for the option to select any two varieties plated in half-portions.  Thus, I tried pillowy, milky cheese ravioli draped with market-fresh zucchini blossoms and abundant shavings of luxurious, aromatic white summer truffle.  Alongside sat a fat pici tinted with squid ink: voluptuous, thick-twisted noodles sauced in savory, chili-flecked seafood ragu- a lusty and robust tangle of flavor.

Sticking with the light, summery theme, we finished off with a salt-baked, whole orata, moist and flaky, dressed simply with a drizzle of verdant Tuscan olive oil and a splay of pungent capers and minced herbs.   An array of perfectly cooked grilled vegetables kept company on the plate: toothsome, sweet fennel, nutty zucchini, a zesty cipollini onion and fruity red bell pepper among them.  This is the kind of dish Milos across the street serves to its fawning masses, but of poorer quality and at twice the price.  Circo's version is simplicity at its finest.

While I wasn't sure I needed dessert after all of that, the masterpiece that arrived- just a single cannoli with a perfectly round orb of tart blood orange sorbet- was so whimsically decorated and artfully plated that it felt fit for royalty.  Which, in perfect keeping with any and all of the restaurants of the Maccioni Group, is how this night left me feeling, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment