Entries in Osteria del Circo (2)


Circo's Festival of Black Kale

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.

The four-course menu (click on the image for a larger copy) will be served for just five days, March 17–21, at both lunch and dinner.

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.

Click to read more ...


Osteria del Circo

It’s fascinating to read the old reviews of Osteria del Circo, way back when it was new, in 1996. People were fighting like mad to get into the place. In the Times, Ruth Reichl awarded two stars.

The restaurant is the brainchild of the Maccioni family, the same folks behind Le Cirque. The circus theme pervades the Adam Tihany design, which is remarkably clever. Quite apart from the food, I enjoyed just looking at Osteria del Circo.

Nowadays, you can get in whenever you want, though it’s in no danger of going out of business—the space was mostly full by 7:00 on a Saturday evening. It does a lot of pre-theater business: we were asked twice if we had a show to see (we did). The server cautioned that we should get our order in early. Sure enough, we got noticeably less attention after the crowds turned up.

The cuisine is Tuscany through an American lens, with a Pat LaFreida veal chop having appeared on the menu; is there anyplace he doesn’t sell to? You won’t pay what you would at Le Cirque, but this probably won’t be a cheap night out. The overly long menu has a wide range of prices, from pizzas (around $20 each) to a ribeye for two ($38pp).

The kitchen did well by a simple salad ($14; above left) of arugula, endive, sliced apple, bacon, and blue cheese croquettes. My son loved the antipasto appetizer ($19; above right) with salumi, crostini, and marinated vegetables.

Tagliolini with tomato sauce and basil ($14 as an appetizer; above left) is one of the more simplistic pasta dishes. But the pumkin tortelli with foie gras ($29 as a main course; above right) was first rate.

Neither of the entrées wowed. Spicy Brandy Flambéed Shrimps (above left) sound fancy, but it’s not a very impressive plate for $36. I suspect my son would have preferred fries to fried zucchini and eggplant strips. Veal scallopine (above right) was merely competent, bearing in mind its $34 price tag.

The service comes with none of Le Cirque’s legendary “attitude” towards the hoi polloi. The staff happily seated our incomplete party, plied us with house-made bread, and promptly took our drinks order. The wine list had a good selection at lower prices; we settled on a red for $42.

We left well fed and well cared for. All of the food was at least competent, and a few dishes were better than that. With the right selections you can dine well here, but it’s expensive: the bill for three people was $212 before tax and tip.

Osteria del Circo (120 W. 55th St. between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)

Food: *
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: *