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Week of September 17, 2001

First Taste

Circo, Unsquare
Although the Maccioni family made its reputation through haute cuisine at Le Cirque, its roots have always been very down-home and small-town Tuscan. To take over the stove of their newly refurbished Osteria del Circo (check out the large lion statue leaping over the coatroom!), they have chosen an Italian-American chef, Albert Di Meglio (pictured), from the equally down-home borough of Staten Island. Starting out -- and getting fired after one day -- at one of my favorite slice joints (LaRacca's, in Midland Beach), he pursued his passion at the New York Restaurant School and Le Cirque. There, he was schooled in the arts of chopping things really small and working with foie gras, white truffles, and other high-ticket rarities. At Circo, his task is to de-Frenchify his food while creating sophisticated neo-Italian cuisine, and the resulting menu -- vetted for Italian-ness by the doyenne of the family, Egidiana Maccioni -- includes faithfully reproduced classics such as fritto misto di mare (batter-fried squid, prawns, and anchovies) and thin-crust pizza. Among the new creations, redolent of Italy but bearing an inventive chef's stamp: succulent roasted scallops wrapped in pancetta, served alongside a creamy and crispy chickpea cake; and a number of new pasta offerings, like handmade spaghetti alla chitarra with tomatoes and roasted langoustines, and paccheri (large tube pasta) with squid, fish, and plenty of basil. Loin of rabbit stuffed with fennel sausage and prosciutto presages brawnier fall dishes to come. -- PETER KAMINSKY
Osteria del Circo
120 West 55th Street

Best of the Week

The Third Annual Heirloom Vegetable Ball at JUdson Grill
Limited seating is available for this September 30 event celebrating Greenmarket's twenty-fifth birthday, with food by the likes of The Four Seasons' Christian Albin. Fish, meats, and, of course, heirloom fruits and vegetables. Call for tickets.
JUdson Grill
152 W. 52nd St.

Ask Gael

I've got a curtain to catch on the new 42nd Street.

Go retro. Rediscover the fun of Chez Josephine (pictured, right), Jean-Claude Baker's lively homage to his adopted mother, Josephine Baker, its bordello look newly refreshed, with crimson shades on chandeliers and memorabilia of incomparable Maman everywhere. The welcome's so warm, it feels like a homecoming, and the piano is live every night. Fridays and Saturdays, Sarah McLawler plays standing up, barefoot. Bistro standbys -- asparagus napoleon, boeuf bourguignonne, deftly cooked salmon -- are good enough. Southern fried chicken is fabulous, and le délice Josephine delivers paradise in chocolate.


Around the corner, Le Madeleine has been feeding theater crowds for years. Don't sulk if you can't get into Esca across the street: The bistro's gone modern under chef Bruce Beaty (whose lively flavors reflect stints with Alfred Portale, Gilbert LeCoze, and Jonathan Waxman). We feel miles from Ninth Avenue reality in the quirky all-weather garden, sharing grilled lamb sausage and splendid yellowfin tartare that's zingy from lime and ginger. The tang of ripe tomato enlivens the skate's classic brown-butter vinaigrette. Corn custard, leaf spinach, and summer-vegetable compote tag alongside braised lamb shoulder, and the rib eye comes with fabulous frites. Lemon custard seals the deal. Grab a honey madeleine and catch that curtain.

Chez Josephine
414 West 42nd Street

Le Madeleine
403 West 43rd Street

Bites & Buzz Archive
Week of September 10
Spots for surf 'n' turf; Gael rediscovers Teodora
Week of September 3
Killer tomatoes; Saturdays at Ducasse; Chef Gary Robins at Mi; Gael on Danzon
Week of August 20
Heartland malts; crayfish week at Aquavit; Opia den; Gael on Aureole
Week of August 13
Pollen's nothing to sneeze at; corn dogs and corn cakes; monkey see, monkey re-do

and more ...

Photos: Annie Schlechter(2); Kenneth Chen.

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