Steve Wynn had to convince famed New York restaurateur Sirio Maccioni to open Osteria del Circo at Bellagio in 1998, but the restaurant has been a pillar of Italian cooking on the Strip ever since.
Sirio’s oldest son, Mario, an elegant man who always looks good in a Brioni suit, has been at the helm from the start, despite changes in the kitchen. Today, the chef is the capable Michael Vitangeli, who worked his way up French-style, from cutting vegetables, and took over in the kitchen late last year.
The system works. Vitangeli gets the Maccioni family message across with pizzazz. Just bite into a light, fluffy pansotti (pasta pillows stuffed with minced duck) or Mama Egi’s ravioli, filled with sheep’s milk ricotta, and you’ll be a believer. The food here isn’t perfect, but bad dishes are as rare as a Berlusconi apology.
I still miss when the restaurant opened for lunch, and you could see MGM Resorts chairman Terry Lanni or Oscar Goodman at a table. But I’ve always liked the colorful interior by famed designer Adam Tihany, billowing red and yellow silk on the ceiling and the motorized unicyclist next to the kitchen, not to mention scoring a table with a direct view of the Bellagio fountains.
Vitangeli has added new dishes to the menu, all worth trying. In 14 years of dining here, I had never tried their pizza. My bad!
The Gorgonzola e noci—a white pizza topped with the pungent cheese and a sprinkling of roasted walnuts—is amazing, the thin crust smeared with balsamic cream, the nuts suspended on a mesh of braised onions and baby spinach. There is also spaghetti con bottarga: fresh, al dente noodles mixed with the roe of the Sardinian gray mullet, one of the great delicacies of Europe. What makes both dishes is the subtlety with which Vitangeli employs the star ingredients, Gorgonzola and bottarga. Had he used too much, they would have overwhelmed the palate. As they were presented, they could hardly have been improved upon.
One dish I order again and again here is Frantoiana, a Tuscan bean and vegetable soup laced with fettunta, a crunchy type of garlic bread brushed with EVOO. It’s quite hearty, and I recommend it instead as a substitute for pasta if you are planning to order a fish or meat course.
That’s a capital idea. I love salmone, grilled Scottish salmon with baby spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes. At $49, roast Maine lobster with wild mushroom farotto (risotto done with spelt, an ancient Roman grain) and asparagus tips is the pricey menu’s best bargain.
The best meat course is easily the osso buco—meaty, messy, completely great and for my money the best one in the city, unless you count the one at Sirio Ristorante, Circo’s cousin restaurant in Aria.
Save room for desserts such as the squiggly panna cotta (literally “cooked cream”) surrounded by wild berries, or the house’s famous bomboloni, yeasty donuts served hot with raspberry and chocolate sauces.
Speaking of Sirio, a more casual version of Circo, it has been so successful that they are planning to open one in New York City. Even Sirio himself is convinced.