Cheers for Circo

Cheers for Circo

The Circo dining room

I remember, back in 1996, when Circo opened in Midtown, to much acclaim: After all, the three young men (Mario, Marco and Mauro) that opened up this playfully-decorated, Italian restaurant in the Theater District were restaurant royalty: Their father, Sirio Maccione, was the founder of the legendary Le Cirque (“the circus”) in 1974, which, almost instantly upon opening, started attracting the attention of the glitterati, from Steven Spielberg to Gwyneth Paltrow. When Circo opened, it had much the same fanfare, a more casual, (but still flamboyant) dining spot that sent the Page 6 celebs flocking.

I hadn’t been back to Circo since the late 1990s, so recently, while hunting around for a pre-theater dinner spot, I realized that the restaurant was relatively close to the show I was going to see (the wonderful “Holiday Inn”) and so, my friend and I slipped into the lounge area, scooped up a small table (first-come, first serve), and sat down for a revisit.

The decor is just as delightful as I remembered: colorful figurines grace shelves and tables, a red-and-white ceiling circus “tent” billows from the ceiling, and pretty glass wall sconces give the dining room a subdued glow. The menu, filled with classic Tuscan pastas and seafood, was appealing, but right from the start, the mare nostrum caught my eye: a plate of seared calamari, octopus carpaccio, shrimps and clams oreganata. We sided that with a dish of spaghetti, accented with manila clams (yes, we were in a clammy frame of mind), parsley garlic oil and white wine.

Mare nostrum at Circo

Mamma mia: the seafood dish was a marvel, the octopus carpaccio grounding the plate and papery-thin, while the mini-clams could have been eaten like popcorn, so tasty were they. The pasta, fresh and wonderfully al dente was fragranced by the clams and a wonderful, high-grade olive oil that flavored without overpowering.

The boys have done good by papa. He no doubt is proud: 20 years later, the restaurant still shines.

>> Circo, 120 W. 55th St., 212.265.3636