Just a quick note to tell you about my fantastic lunch meeting last week! I stopped in for lunch at Circo at the Intercontinental Hotel to meet with the well-known Italian-American owner, Mauro Maccioni. His father was the catalyst behind the family's restaurant empire, starting with the famous Le Cirque in New York City and eventually launching the elegant yet welcoming brand of Circo (Italian). We chatted about Italian food, the restaurant industry and even caught up with Circo's new head chef, Andrea Pastore. And, it turns out Mauro and I both have daughters with the same name...so it was obvious he has good taste, right from the start.
If you have not yet been to Circo (and you don't speak Italian), you might not know that it is circus themed (imagine an old-fashioned elegant circus). The walls have lots of bright color accents and you just feel like smiling when you walk through the doors. "The spirit is welcoming yet elegant", summarizes Maccioni. He flew in from New York City where he lives, keeping operations smooth at the famous Le Cirque and Circo in NYC. For a few weeks every now and then, he hops on a plane to keep tabs on his other global locations...like the recently opened Le Cirque in Dubai, and of course our own lovely Circo here in Abu Dhabi.
Maccioni is visiting this month to welcome the Chef Andrea to the reigns. Chef Andrea is Pugliese (from Southern Italy) but has been in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for most of his recent career. He has been head chef at the opening of a few well-to-do Italian restaurants in the Emirates and is now in process of refreshing the menu at Circo. Maccioni says he gives him about 50% of the menu to do what he likes, completely carte blanche.
We were lucky enough to taste a few of Chef Andrea's new dishes. My favorite was his perfectly al dente orecchiette with deliciously simple fresh tomato sauce, studded with a few large chunks of creamy burrata. It tasted just like Italy. And Maccioni points out that each table has a bottle of the beautifully labeled, high-quality olive oil, Fernando Pensato, for drizzling on any (or all) of your food.
While the new menu is still in the works, Chef Andrea also plans to launch regionally focused menus that will highlight a special area of Italy for a limited time. Because so many restaurants focus on Tuscan food, he wants to make sure that they don't leave out the cuisine of the entire rest of the country. Regardless of what Circo is serving, Maccioni makes it clear that Circo is committed to simply great food while giving each guest a casual yet elegant atmosphere in which to enjoy it. Without breaking the bank.
So next time you are craving Italian, check out Circo. I seriously can't wait to return. While there are lots of Italian restaurants in Abu Dhabi, there are only a handful of really excellent ones, and Circo is definitely in that circle. It flies under the radar a lot of the time, and I even tend to forget about it. Then, like last week, I ask myself why have I not been back sooner??!!