Playfulness is in the air at Circo NYC. Sculpted in metal, swooping monkeys, a band of clowns, and a majestic lion lean from the big-top ceiling. The sense of spirited theatricality swings all the way into the kitchen: its open design showcases chefs at work hand-cutting housemade pastas, taming the grill’s roaring flames, and chopping fresh herbs. Today’s Reserve selection invites you to sit back and taste the show with a choice of the following options:
- $125 for a four-course tasting dinner for two people and one bottle of Marchesi Antinori Guado al Tasso Vermentino Bolgheri 2011
- $250 for a four-course tasting dinner for two people and one 0.75-liter bottle of Marchesi Antinori Tignanello Sangiovese 2009
- $475 for a four-course tasting dinner for four people and one 0.75-liter bottle of Rocca di Frassinello Baffonero 2009
- $675 for a four-course tasting dinner for 10 people and one 1.5-liter magnum bottle of Il Pareto Nozzole 2004
For each person, dinner includes a choice of one appetizer, one pasta or risotto dish, one entree, and one dessert from the spring tasting menu.
Circo NYC’s founders, Mario, Marco, and Mauro Maccioni, have one obvious role model in the restaurant business: their father, Sirio, an Italian immigrant who established landmark restaurant Le Cirque in 1974. But their creation also pays tribute to matriarch Egidiana, whose Tuscan recipes form the backbone of a menu characterized by dishes so authentically traditional that they may surprise American palates.
For example, the Reserve experience’s third course offers a choice not between, say, veal and chicken, but between rabbit and chestnut-honeyed shrimp flambéed in brandy. Both come with accents of artichokes, one of many bright flavors that help the spring tasting menu live up to its season. Fresh spring peas and mint mix with the little rings of a plate of tortelli, and sun-dried-tomato basil pesto seasons grilled Mediterranean octopus. Desserts, on the other hand, aim for complex decadence, showcasing milk-chocolate mousse and dry meringue in the zuccotto al cioccolato, and café-latte gelato with toasted pine nuts in the torta della nonna.
Diners lick their lips in a space that Gayot praised for its “animated air of professionalism and youthful elegance,” adorned with vintage circus posters, harlequin banners, and striped wainscoting. During temperate months, diners can take in the real-time theatrics of New York City’s streets with the outdoor terrazza’s open design, proximity to 55th Street, and complimentary opera glasses.
It's not unusual to prefer your mother's home cooking to fancy restaurant fare. Except, maybe, when your mother is the wife of Sirio Maccioni, the restaurateur behind the landmark Midtown spot Le Cirque. "My brothers and I would always rather eat at home than at Le Cirque," Mauro Maccioni says on the website for Circo, the restaurant he runs with his brother Marco. "My mother is a wonderful cook." That's why, when the brothers opened Circo with their father in 1996, they decided to focus the menu on their mother's classic Italian cooking.
Award-winning executive chef Alfio Longo gives each homestyle recipe an upscale twist: his creations include pyramidal pumpkin agnolotti in a brown-butter and amaretto crumble, chestnut pappardelle entwined with muscovy-duck ragu, and a white pizza dotted with smoked salmon and capers. Filled Tuscan donuts and cannoli with blood-orange sorbet end meals on a note sweeter than a barbershop quartet’s rendition of “That’s Amore.” Diners savor their meals amid playful but understated circus-themed decor, including dancing clowns, trapeze-swinging monkeys, and a swath of red-and-white fabric that recalls the big top.