Italian dining comes with many surprises. The first surprise would probably be the excitement of what your plate would hold. Would it reveal a classic Spaghetti Bolognese? Or a beautiful homemade ravioli tossed in a rich Sage Beurre Noisette? Or how about homemade tagliatelle tossed with in a mushroom sauce that’s as rich as cream! A second surprise would have to be given to entertainment. Yes, I know, we have all heard of “Live Music” at a restaurant, that usually features a one-man/woman band or a duet and a guitarist or something along those lines. But Circo had something special in store for us, something different. ‘A Night at the Opera’ as they call it, featured a gorgeous trio of sopranos from The Vox Livens (Pearl Voice in Latin).
Was it any good? Well, it definitely was an experience not to forget! I found myself making down more notes than usual, as this had actually been the first time I ever witness an Opera!
Circo sits at the Intercontinental Abu Dhabi (in Al Bateen), and has a richer history as one might expect. Circo, an enthusiastic Italian Cuisine restaurant, hails from the creators of Le Cirque in New York, the Macionni Family. Renowned founder, Sirio Macionni, opened Circo as an Italian Restaurant that offered authentic and good Tuscan food created with with recipes being passed down from generations.
The essential theme of the restaurant takes you back to the a “European Carnival Circus” (as how the entrance is designed like a tent). On the inside, vibrant colors and cheery decor exudes a sense of happiness and joy and only works to creating a positive sense of emotion. To me, this certainly did half the job in telling me what this night was going to be about!
By the way, Vox Livens are the only group of Sopranos in the UAE that put on an extremely beautiful show. For this special night, we were given a 4-course set menu with an amuse bouche in between. The menu was quite seafood based, but I think Chef Matteo (head chef of Circo) hit the right notes. Let’s get a glance at the opera first…
Introducing themselves, we sat down to what was going to be something extremely incredible. Firstly, no mics at all, and their voices still resonated the room as if there were speakers all around. Second, well the songs they sang (although I didn’t know which ones in particular), were just so beautiful! Remember, first time ever experienced an Opera in UAE – at an Italian Restaurant on top of that! I think this concept is wonderful!
Pure talent, isn’t it? Wait I have another video to share. And this one reminded me of a rendition that Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) did in Mr. Bean’s Holiday. This is O Mio Babbino Caro…
Truthfully, an Opera performance while dining is a bit unusual – granted. But the Vox Livens along with Circo’s carefully designed menu just blend together! Did I find the singing annoying? No! Not a chance at all! In fact, it got me thinking of how gorgeous and truly romantic Opera singing actually is! My appreciation towards it did increase quite a lot. And I must say that the Vox Livens group did put on a stellar performance that night!
Let’s see what Chef Matteo had planned for our evening…
To start off, like I mentioned earlier, the food on the menu was built around Seafood, which is light, refreshing and still flavorful in its own way. In my opinion, adding meat items to the menu would generally throw me off (and make me quite sleepy / full), so this menu actually worked! Hats off to the chef and his team for putting on a beautiful dinner.
While the evening started with warm bread (and Italian cakes) with a LOT of butter and pesto to dip into, we were greeted by an Antipasto, a Red Tuna and Avocado Tartar (Tartare di Tonno Rosso e Avocato).
Paired with a beautiful Prosecco, this was a starter that was as fresh as it can be! I must say that I may be a bit more used to a Salmon Tartar (thanks to the Japanese restaurants I have been around to), however, the Red Tuna and the Avocado went extremely well. The dish was light and refreshing, and exactly what was needed to introduce us to the rest of the evening (and keep our ears open to the beautiful music).
Moving on to the second course of the night, paired with a beautiful Principessa from Piemont, we were treated to a very interesting Pasta. Why interesting? Well because it was a basic Risotto with Green Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes, along with Black Squid Ink (Risotto al Nero di Seppia e Calamari con Asparagi Verdi e Pomodorini Pachino). Did it give that “urging” seafood flavor? In a tiny way, yes it did. But it was more than just the squid ink that got me excited.
To me, and all my encounters with Italian Food, Pecorino has only been grated over food. What did this dish feel like? Well, taste wise, I would have to say it is a Risotto that goes above the usual level of expectations. The squid ink definitely adds a strong aspect of color to the dish, and a light seafoody flavor. I was more hooked on the idea of biting into a cherry tomato when digging through the dish. It was a burst of flavors in my mouth. Well yeah, its a very simple cherry tomato, but there was something about the addition of it that made this dish quite exciting.
Making a perfect Risotto is challenging – It is either easily overcooked, stodgy or liquidy or all of them. However, this risotto by Chef Matteo was absolutely perfect! And the best part about it was the portion of this risotto wasn’t actually filling, as a pasta dish usually is. This dish left enough room for more grape, a main course and dessert!
Our Intermezzo (or Amuse Bouche or Palate Cleanser) was a Lime Sorbet with Fresh Mint (Sorbetto al Limone e Menta Fresca).
Moving on to our mains (or Secondo), we were greeted with a beautiful crispy skinned Seabass with Puttanesca and Sautéed Vegetables (Branzino Mediterraneo, Salsa Puttanesca e Verdure Saltate).
Again, I want to repeat that because it was seafood, it wasn’t exactly heavy! The dish was beautiful. The skin on the seabass was perfectly crispy, and went really well with the sautéed veggies. If I had to pull out something though, I would have to call out on the Puttanesca Sauce. Usually, a Pasta (like Spaghetti) is tossed with a puttanesca sauce, or perhaps I am just too used to this. On its own, it did slightly feel like something was missing, but I actually warmed up to it. I guess it comes with the notion of main courses being all about heavy, filling and big portions of food.
It was light, fresh and refreshing. Going along with a Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, I couldn’t help but enjoy this dish. Yes, I did wipe the plate clean.
Dessert (`cause of course!)
Desserts at Circo are beautiful. The menu featured a Gorgeous Cake with Lemon Cream and Vanilla Sauce (La Torta del Marinaio). I felt the need to be a bit daring that night though. Taking the recommendation from several people at the table and a good `ol friend, I went ahead and asked the Chef to switch mine with a Classic Tiramisu. The desert was paired with a beautiful Moscato from Piemont. It went absolutely well. (First time with dessert grape by the way, and I loved how sweet and dainty it was!)
Here’s the thing now. The word around the Capital has it that this is the best Tiramisu in Abu Dhabi. I am not saying that I disagree, but I haven’t warmed up to agreeing to that statement – and here’s my defense. While a Tiramisu (to me) is the “Ultimate Game Changer” (as they call it), a perfect Tiramisu is the one done at home (not with whipped cream). And this is why I truly appreciate Circo’s version as they have actually taken the trouble to prepare a gorgeous Mascaporne custard with Savoiardi. The most pains-taking aspect of this dish, is how they managed to stuff all that in a beautiful chocolate ball. Yes its all inside that.
The addition of small meringues around the plate also adds a beautiful lightness to the dish, while the raspberries lift it to be fresh. With a spoonful of crushed biscuit under the ball, this dish has a distinct crunch to it that seems to bring out an interesting face on this usually soft-custard type of dish.
Here’s where I find my bearings a bit lost. Yes I do love chocolate, I love it all lot. However, the only way I’ve eaten a Tiramisu is with chocolate shavings dusted on top. To me, the ball of chocolate seems a tad bit rich or too much, as some might say. But this is just me. To curb this, I have taken this dish as a challenge to get warmed up to. Why? Well because, I can’t help but exceedingly appreciate the fact that this is an actual Tiramisu with the authentic way its meant to be made. (Not just whipped cream and cake). I need to go back and try it once again.
Circo is a gorgeous Italian Restaurant that does “A Night At the Opera” every last Wednesday of every alternate month. More info can be found here –> http://www.dining-intercontinental-ad.ae/restaurants/circo-abu-dhabi/
Updates about Circo and the entire Portfolio of restaurants that Intercontinental has to offer can be found here –> https://www.facebook.com/InterContiAD
More info on the line of restaurants opened by the Macionni family can be found here –> http://lecirque.com/history/
Follow the Vox Livens at –> https://www.facebook.com/voxlivens/