It’s a good year to be checking in at the Maccioni family restaurants—Le Cirque, Sirio, and Circo. The patriarch, Sirio Maccioni, will receive a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award later this year; his three sons now tend to his international empire. At Le Cirque, there’s a new chef (Raphael Francois), hired after Pete Wells filed a brutal one-star review in late 2012.
There was a less heralded change last year at Circo (pronounced “cheer-ko”), where Alfio Longo took over the kitchen. Now that he has settled in, the chef hopes to serve special menus every couple of months, focused on seasonal themes—currently, black kale from the Maccionis’ native Tuscany.
If this meal is indicative of the chef’s talents, Circo is in good hands. One might worry about monotony in a menu built on one ingredient, but he deploys it so cleverly that one is scarcely aware of the repetition. And he is not afraid of challenging the diner: a rich tripe florentine, a chickpea pancake called a farinata, and a cuttlefish stew, are among the choices.
They are practically giving it away for just $49. If Michael White did that, he’d be hailed as a genius. By way of comparison, the four-course menu at White’s least expensive Italian restaurant, Osteria Morini, is $70. Last time I was there, they had paper napkins, orange placemats, and no tablecloths.
Full disclosure: our visit to Circo was at the publicist’s invitation, and we were not charged.
Both first courses were terrific: Black Kale salad (above left) with puntarelle (chicory), a soft poached egg, and aged gouda; and Slow-Cooked Tripe (above right) with kale and pecorino cheese.
The second course offered a Farinata (above left), a sort of pancake with chickpeas and kale; or Pumpkin Gnocchi (above right) with kale, bacon, and almonds.
No one at our table chose the cuttlefish stew, so for the main course I have a photo only of the luscious Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek (above left), served on a pumpkin purée in a classic chianti sauce.
The kitchen went off the menu for dessert, sending out different items to all nine seats at our table, none of which seemed to be the ones actually offered on the kale menu. I got photos of three of them, but not their descriptions, although the photo above left is obviously a soufflé. David Gomez has been the pastry chef here since 2009, and you’d say he has it down to a science.
Circo, formerly called Osteria del Circo, is the most casual of the three Maccioni restaurants, but it’s all relative. In 1996, it must have seemed like Le Cirque in khakis and a t-shirt. If it opened today, you’d call it a fancy restaurant, of the style that is no longer fashionable unless Michael White is running it. That could be the reason why it has such an inconspicuous media footprint.
There is really no justice in that. Adam Tihany’s witty design is a minor masterpiece, and we have always been well cared for at any Maccioni restaurant, whether I was recognized or not. If you’ve ever walked by Circo on 55th Street and wondered what the circus was about, now is a good time to drop in.
Circo (120 W. 55th St. between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)