There’s a whole new vibe at 50 Weybosset Street, where bartender extraordinaire Carlo Carlozzi has opened Circe, a stylish restaurant and bar, with Simon Keating as the executive chef. Gone are the warm orange tones of the old DownCity. In its place is a dazzling look of white on white with a touch of gray – white woodwork, white leather chairs, white pendant lights. But the real change is in the food and the supercharged energy around the usually busy bar.
Both Carlozzi and Keating are recent graduates of the John Elkhay school of restaurant business. Carlozzi was the hottest bartender in the city during his stint at Elkhay’s Ten Prime Steak & Sushi. Keating was the chef making magic in the kitchen at Elkay’s XO Café. These two key players from the Chow Fun Restaurant Group set out on their own with the opening of Circe in October.
In Greek legend, Circe was a celebrated enchantress, and her beautiful image is suggested on both the lunch and dinner menu. Located in the heart of the city’s Financial District, Circe is bound to enchant lunch guests with its creative offerings (priced from $6 to $16) of soup, salads, sandwiches, seafood, pasta and meatloaf, a dish this city seems to crave.
In contrast, the dinner menu is a three-act play with appetizers and salads as “beginnings,” entrees as “middles,” and desserts as “endings.” The night we were there, this “play” looked like a box office hit with folks (mostly men in suits) three deep at the bar and tables filling quickly as the night progressed.
Circe has an unusual layout with the bar to your immediate right upon entering the restaurant and tables to your left and then further in, next to the semi-open kitchen. The dining area on the left is dimly lit while it is much brighter near the kitchen. We could not read the menu at our table for two, but our server quickly offered us her pen/flashlight.
Be prepared for extraordinary food when you dine at Circe. For our first course, the crispy pork belly with cider jus tempted me, as did the roasted pumpkin fettuccine with chervil cream. But I find it impossible to pass up fresh figs so I asked for the Berkshire Blue Cheese Stuffed Figs ($8). Sitting on a bed of baby arugula, the three plump figs were warm and filled with that tangy cheese, offset with a drizzle of Wishing Stone Farm honey. I savored every bite, not wanting this appetizer to end.
My passion for fresh figs is similar to Brian’s preference for beets so he was pleased to see Roasted Local Beets ($6) on the small plates menu. The multicolored cubes of beets mingled with small chunks of smoked Gouda and amazing balsamic pearls.
The ten entrees (priced between $20 and $30) on the global menu include a 14-ounce pork chop, pan-roasted free-range duck breast, seared Ahi tuna, grilled Scottish salmon, seared Bomster scallops, wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli, free-range chicken and a vegetarian plate starring seared halloumi cheese. Each main course is paired up with unique accompaniments. For instance, the small plate version of the Scottish salmon is offered with Four Town Farm sweet corn and Fall River chorizo hash – even more interesting than the headlining salmon.
Our entrees were perfect dishes for a cold winter night. The Braised Lamb Shank ($28) was massive and falling-off-the-bone tender. It barely fit inside the deep bowl of rosemary-scented beluga lentils and honey-roasted parsnips. Roasting always brings out the sweetness in root vegetables, and that touch of honey made the usually bland parsnips even more enjoyable. The lamb, the lentils, the parsnips – three completely different textures in perfect harmony.
The Grilled Hereford Tenderloin ($30) was perfection on a plate. The chef created a tower of tastes, beginning with a base of sautéed spinach, then the absolutely wonderful dauphinoise potatoes, topped with the beyond tender tenderloin. On the side was a small pitcher containing port wine demi glace for drizzling. As tasty as the beef was, the classic French potatoes were creamy, garlicky and deliciously rich.
During our dinner, we dipped into the conical bread basket again and again. The bread was excellent, but the warm olive oil dotted with a luxurious balsamic vinegar made it even better. I wonder if that same good bread might have been used in the Bread Pudding ($8) that I had for dessert. Warm from the oven, the muffin-size serving of dense bread pudding came to the table with a tangy toffee apple sorbet on the side. The other dessert I eagerly sampled was the Coupe de Ville ($9), a parfait glass filled with coffee ice cream (house-made according to the menu) topped with an elegant chantilly cream, toasted slivers of almonds and a generous drizzle of Tia Maria. All that caffeine kept me up until 3am, but it was worth it.
Pricey? Perhaps. (The Death by Chocolate dessert is $18.) Pretentious? Absolutely not. With owner Carlo Carlozzi warmly greeting old friends who come in to check out the new digs, it’s obvious that happy days are here again in Providence, and Circe is raising the bar when it comes to the city’s dining scene.