Written by Marilyn Hansen and Hulda Lawrence
OSTERIA DEL CIRCO, 120 West 55th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, (212) 265-3636. A broad, windowed entrance with blue and yellow awnings is your first upbeat impression of Circo (pronounced "Cheer-co").
Enter into the open, airy restaurant and you'll find a bright blue circus ring suspended from the ceiling hung with gold stars and playful sculptures of monkeys between yellow and red swags. You'll immediately catch the energy of Osteria Del Circo (Circus Tavern). As you enter you'll smell the tantalizing aromas of fresh herbs, roasting meats, simmering sauces and baking bread that will sharpen your appetite.
Circo is the creation of Sirio Maccioni, proprietor of Le Cirque, his wife, Egidiana, who is the supervising chef, and their sons, Marco and Mauro, who are your hosts. The menu comprises a blend of Egi Maccioni's traditional home cooking and quality ingredients in recipes prepared with superb finesse by executive chef, Alessandro Giuntoli. Chef Giuntoli brings a vast experience and creativity to the kitchen from years of working as chef at New York's Le Cirque and Restaurant Louis XV, Montecarlo, among other prestigious establishments.
In addition to the regular menu there are daily specials from the Tuscan-inspired kitchen which vary from day to day and at lunch and dinner. For example, at dinner on Monday: Roast Whole Veal Shank; Tuesday: Crepes of the Day; Wednesday: Osso Bucco alla Milanese; Thursday: Lasagne alla Bolognese. On Saturday at lunch there is a four course prix fixe for $29.
For soup lovers the Tuscan Thirty Vegetable Soup, Egidianna's own recipe, is hearty, healthful and satisfying. Among the antipasti are endive salad with Pecorino cheese, red beets, walnuts, raisins and pears; steamed Maine lobster with fennel, tomato confit, pink grapefruit, arugula and potato salad - you might want to have this delicious rendition as a main course. Mixed fried seafood featuring shrimp, calamari, fish and zucchini with two sauces is delightful, light. Love grilled vegetables as much as I do? Select them here served with melting breaded mozzarella.
Pasta selections range from Egi's ravioli filled with spinach and sheep's milk ricotta, a risotto of the day, and spaghetti with Manilla clams and zucchini, to name several. Choose from fish offerings such as Tuscan fish soup filled with lobster, prawns, calamari, monkfish, clams and mussels. Baccala (salt cod) alla Livonese is prepared in a spicy tomato sauce served with polenta and swiss chard, tastes like you wish mama's did years ago!
Among meat courses, consider classic Veal Milanese with arugula salad and herb roasted potatoes; roast chicken with wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and stuffed red onions. Only one in the crowd who craves steak? Vote for grilled New York strip steak with baby turnips and braised white beans with tomatoes, garlic and sage.
Covering all bases, Circo also presents a collection of pizzas, from the traditional pizza margherita (with mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil) to four cheese pizza, and Pizza Pazza Del Circo with mascarpone, tomato sauce, topped with prosciutto. Fantastic!.
Needless to say there is a full bar and it is a convivial gathering spot, after work and late at night. Here you'll find martinis to cosmopolitans prepared with aplomb. A wonderful list of appropriate wines is available. Make your own selection or be guided by the wine steward.
Dessert? Of course you want to indulge. Do you fancy the milk chocolate mousse dome with crisp gianduja and a dark chocolate mirror sauce? The Tia Maria is espresso parfait-filled macaroons with caramel sauce and crunchy almonds; the plate of charming assorted miniature desserts is perfect to share. Still want a big dessert? By all means have Circo's famous Bomboloncini: vanilla, chocolate and raspberry filled doughnuts. Enjoy them with a steaming cup of cappuccino - heaven! These desserts are but a few of the sweet temptations prepared by pastry chef Stephane Weber.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Monday - Saturday Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. Monday - Thursday 5:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. Sunday Bar Menu 11:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. closing
Credit Cards: All major cards
Dress: Casual elegance
Smoking: In the bar, and at the outdoor café
Wheelchair accessibility: Yes
Parking: Indoor parking garage on street
Highlight: Across the street from New York City Center Theatre
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.