One of my favorite Italian Restaurants is Circo on west 55th street in Manhattan. The fine-tuned recipes, sharp service, and interesting clientele always add up to an exceptional dining experience. So I was delighted that a Circo Southampton had opened last summer and is planning nearly year-round business. It's quickly becoming a destination restaurant as the Hamptons’ summer traffic subsides.
Circo is part of the Maccioni Family restaurant group that began with Sirio Maccioni's Le Cirque. The Maccioni restaurant empire has expanded and is now run by Sirio and his three sons, Mario, Marco, and Mauro. Mario, who oversaw both Le Cirque and Circo at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for many years, is helming the Southampton operation. This is award-winning Tuscan Italian cooking from the recipes of the Maccioni matriarch, Egidiana.
Chef Jesse de Lorenzo's cooking and salad compositions are excellent, with attention given to fresh ingredients and textural touches. The simple mixed green salad was as vibrant as any I've had in the last several months – mesculn greens, organic local vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon dressing. I ordered it on a second visit just to make sure it was as good as I thought, and it was. Outstanding in the Antipasti column is the polpo: charred octopus, watermelon cumber salad, feta cheese, and olive tapenade; and the frito misto of fried Long Island calamari, shrimp, and vegetables with outstanding marinara sauce. The three items above make for a great meal without even ordering a main course.
However, you shouldn't dine at Circo without trying the wonderful family recipe for ravioli that has achieved acclaim on Circo menus: Ravioli Di Mamma Egi (handmade pasta, buffalo ricotta cheese, spinach, and butter sauce). Before you commit yourself to a no-carb life of gluten-free foods, try this. It might change your mind. Any red-blooded pasta lover will also swoon over the Garganelli Mare (garganelli pasta, seafood ragu, saffron, and chili). Wow!
I recommend two of the entrees especially: the succulent branzino al forno (sea bass Isolana style), and the vitella di latte, a hefty 16 ounce black label veal chop with turnips, pearl onions, carrots, and Chianti wine.
Dessert? When's the last time you had a crostata di limone, a lemon meringue tart with fresh raspberries?
Or aim for the Trio of Dark Chocolate.
There is a more casual bar menu and a half dozen specialty cocktails, like the bracing Fig Leaf, with Bacardi rum, red Vvermouth, lemon juice, and bitters. Who invents these things? It slides down mighty easily! Then there's Robby's Cocktail. Don't ask questions, just try it.
Circo Southampton is open seven days a week, pretty much through Christmas, then closed with a reopen on Valentine's Day.
Be sure to introduce yourself to owner Mario Maccioni, who is likely to be at the door to greet you with the fabled Maccioni family hospitality, By the way, as I write this, Patriarch Sirio Maccioni is in the hospital in Italy recovering from a fractured leg. We wish him a speedy trip back to his post at Le Cirque.