Monday, October 14, 2013

Circolo 45: This Hip East Village Italian Draws Circles Around The Others!

By: Anne M. Raso

I love the light and airy front dining room at the mega hip Circolo 45 and the way it contrasts with the dark and moody back room. It's nice that a restaurant has two sides to enjoy. The atmosphere is no pressure and the service is pleasant and attentive. The food never disappoints. Executive Chef Daniele Sicuranza takes Italian and does it both traditionally and with a fusion feel. It just depends what you order.
Interior of Circolo 45

People go there for their famous Meatballs ($13)--an appetizer portion is three generous balls. The meat is lean and tender and they serve it in a classic, no frills homemade marinara. Equally as famous (but for more adventurous eaters) is the 45 Octopus ($14). It's grilled and served with tomato confit and fresh squeezed lemon juice. This is another simple dish but it appeals to those who prefer dishes with a healthy flair and at the same time is classically Mediterranean. I went for a third appetizer; there were so many interesting choices! The Eggplant Parmigiana is in the classic Southern Italian style but Chef Sicuranza lets the tender locally grown eggplant do the talking and is sparse with the sauce intentionally. The eggplant is baked a little longer than usual to give the diner a mousse texture that is just divine.
The homemade pasta at Circolo 45 is reaching legendary status and I found out why firsthand. I tried the Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Con Tartufo Nero Estivo ($20). This is about two cups of killer egg spaghetti with black summer truffle done perfectly al dente. This is possibly the best pasta I have had in the last year--the freshness was so incredible and it had the perfect thickness and "bite." The truffles were tender and flavorful--the dish almost did not need the EVOO that was on it.
Spaghetti Alla Chitarra
Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Con Tartufo Nero Estivo
My entree was something I rarely have: Beef Shoulder ($24). It's officially called Spezzatino Alla Toscana at Circolo 45. The beef shoulder is oven baked at a low temperature and served with golden potatoes, tomato and basil. This dish is actually like a stew and the meat is so tender that it falls apart on your fork. This is a great alternative to steak, although Circolo as many steaks to choose from including New York Strip ($36), Rib Eye ($32) and Butler's Steak ($23). Let me add that the portion of Beef Shoulder was so generous that half of it can be taken home. It's just so fulfilling.
Spezzatino Alla Toscana (Beef Shoulder)
Spezzatino Alla Toscana (Beef Shoulder)
I ordered Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($5) as a side. The portion is very large (probably over two cups) and unlike most roasted Brussels Sprouts, the olive oil is used sparingly. The sprouts are very soft in the center and can be cut in half with a fork. One portion is good enough for three people to share as a side dish.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Circolo changes their dessert listings every night so they do not appear on their printed or online menu. I told our server to surprise my dining partner and me, so she came up with the most heavenly Chocolate Soufflé dusted with confectioner's sugar ($9). The melted Valhrona gushed dark chocolate as I gently hit it with a fork. It was piping hot and steamy and the texture of the outer shell was like that of a super moist brownie. This is undoubtedly one of the best chocolate soufflé/"molten chocolate cake" experiences I have had in years. It is so satisfying and is a "can't go wrong dessert" when you don't know what you feel like having for dessert and want to share a sweet.
Chocolate Souffle
Chocolate Soufflé
I definitely would go back to Circolo 45. Reservations are recommended but not necessary and an interesting cross section of people dine there. They have something for people who like traditional Southern Italian and who like their dishes with a modern twist. A lot of the dishes are defined as Florentine but I see echoes of dishes from many different cities in Southern Italy in what they serve, especially in terms of the pasta. Some of the food is rustic farmhouse farm, which makes it so charming. This is a great place to take guests from out of town who love pasta, great steaks, but also love hardcore Mediterranean staples like Branzino in a salt crust with vegetables (served for two, $54) and Grilled Lamb Chops served with grilled vegetables ($26). If you have any special dietary needs, your server will gladly relate them to the kitchen staff. They aim to please and put their customers at ease and children are welcome. Next time I am going back to try the Circolo steaks that a male friend of mind just told me are mind-blowingly tender and juicy!

Circolo 45
45 Bond Street
New York, NY 10012
Cuisine: Italian

Circolo45 on Urbanspoon
Photos: Anne Raso

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