ELEGANT EATERY Circe's luxe interior.
It was sad to see the landmark restaurant DownCity close its doors in 2011, another victim of the lingering economic downturn. But those in the business are as optimistic as they are persistent, so nine months ago a new restaurant opened in its place, and it looks like Circe is a worthy follow-up.
Around here we’re proud of our favorite eateries, so happily there’s also a worthy origin story for this place. Owner Carlo Carlozzi saved tips for more than 10 years as a bartender at 10 Prime Steak & Sushi to achieve his dream of opening his own restaurant. With the help of executive chef Simon Keating, who made his name at XO Cafe, he has succeeded in classy style. They were helped by having a beautiful, light-flooded space, the decor an uncluttered white and black.
The menu is divided into Beginnings, Middles, and Endings. The starters are further divided into small plates, salad plates, raw plates, and your choice of a New England artisanal cheese board or charcuterie.
So many temptations. Do you start with a wild mushroom and Narragansett ricotta ravioli with truffle cream sauce ($10), the goat meatballs with feta and yogurt sauce ($10), or the Maine lobster risotto with avocado ice cream — you read that right ($13)? For raw choices not only are there local oysters ($3 each) and Hereford beef tartare with a quail egg ($12), but Bomster scallop ceviche ($8). And that’s just the beginning.
I began with the deviled Baffoni Farm eggs ($8), three attractively presented paprika-sprinkled indulgences above a salad of small cucumber cubes and pea greens. A delicious embarrassment of riches, cholesterol-wise. Johnnie and the couple we were with all had the strawberry salad ($9), with generous amounts of baby arugula, toasted almonds, and Hannahbells (little thimbles of artisanal cheese), drizzled with a balsamic reduction for tart contrast. I heard no complaints.
There is a good choice of wines, from Venetian prosecco by the $9 glass to Dom Perignon by the $298 bottle. I had a crisp little Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that fit the bill.
Carlozzi later said that the most popular items are the scallops and the grilled Scottish salmon entrée ($22) with sweet corn salsa and basil pesto. Those Bomster scallops are appreciated enough to be both an appetizer ($10) and a main course ($26). Mine were seared to perfection, not detracting from the succulence, served with pea greens and slices of red radish for peppery bite and cubes of watermelon to cool things off.
Johnnie could have chosen the “open lasagna” ($18), if only to sample Chef Simon’s take on eggplant caviar. But what appealed to her was the free range chicken panzanella ($24). It was accompanied by cherry tomatoes, fresh fava beans, and a sprinkling of croutons, and she was quite pleased with the oven-roasted chicken breast being moist and tasty.
Desserts are mostly $9, and the current offerings include roasted peach melba, a chocolate ménage a trois, and a deconstructed carrot cake, with panna cotta, carrot sorbet, and orange syrup. Johnnie had a special, a few strawberry slices perched atop a cloud of whipped cream in a meringue shell and was disappointed that the active ingredient was merely decorative. My blueberry crème brûlée, more custard-like than creamy but delicious, came in a little square cup, accompanied by a lagniappe of walnut cookies. Yum.