Patrons of the Bellagio’s Circo in Las Vegas leave the jangling noises of the casino behind as they step through the tall glass doors that lead to a luxurious and vibrant big-top inspired ambiance. The restaurant’s full name is Osteria del Circo, which means “Inn of the Circus,” fitting since Bellagio has played host to Cirque de Soleil’s water-inspired “O” since 1998. Circo’s ceiling is draped in rich red and gold fabric, circus-themed sculptures spin overhead, and wide windows overlook the Fountains of Bellagio water and light show. The restaurant succeeds at a delicate balancing act between bright colors and patterns and an opulent elegance.
The first Circo originated in New York in 1996 by the Maccioni family, and the Bellagio’s Circo followed just two years later. The restaurant specializes in upscale Tuscan cuisine —homemade pastas and pizza, gnocchi, and a variety of fish and meat, such as Mediterranean Sea Bass and rack of lamb. The menu is extensive enough to please anyone with a price range from an affordable $20 carbonara pizza (mascarpone cream, mozzarella, caramelized red onion, pancetta, quail egg) to the appealing splurge of scrigno di mare (risotto or spaghetti) with roasted Maine lobster, dungeness crab, diver scallops, Atlantic prawns, and fresh tomato and basil at $58.
As we were seated, the pleasant wait staff provided a digital tablet to peruse the numerous drink options. Circo’s wine cellar boasts 900 wine selections from countries around the world, and glasses of wine start at $15. I was pleasantly surprised with a generous pour of the Sauvignon Blanc. The Belgian Chimay Ale was smokey, sweet, and caramel-colored.
The antipasti sul ghiaccio (appetizers on ice) and antipasti e insalate (appetizers and salads) ranged from a five piece shrimp cocktail for $25 to the Italian royal osetra caviar for $295. The insalata mista was a perfectly-balanced combination of fresh raspberries, crunchy walnuts, organic mixed greens, ricotta salata, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. A basket of four kinds of delicious homemade bread and bold olive oil threatened to ruin our appetites before the main course even arrived. Our favorite was a hearty and sweet raisin bread that made me think of the homemade bread my grandma used turn out on the floured counter to rise.
Our friendly server answered several of my questions: Which was her favorite pasta? How was the Maine lobster & sweet corn tortelloni? The roasted John Dory with sautéed spinach, saffron potatoes, salsa acqua pazza?
I finally settled on one of the specials—a prime beef sirloin and mushroom tortelloni with cherry tomatoes and asparagus in a white wine butter sauce. My companion chose a more permanent fixture of the menu: the gnocchi al pesto gratinati (potato gnocchi with creamy basil pesto Genovese gratin, parmigiano reggiano). The food was timed perfectly, the wait staff quietly refilling water and checking for additional drink orders. While we enjoyed the bread and salad, beyond the large windows the light and water show of the Bellagio fountain was choreographed to the music playing both inside the cool restaurant and outside in the heat. Savvy diners do well by requesting tables near the windows.
A friend once told me great gnocchi is like “little pillows from heaven,” and now I know what she meant. The gnocchi were light and fluffy, and the pesto was extraordinarily fresh and nutty. Perfection. The tortelloni was visually-appealing on the plate, and although the meat and mushroom-stuffed pasta was hearty, the white wine butter sauce was a tad bland comparatively.
Too full for dessert, the wait staff delivered complimentary pistachio biscotti and a delicate vanilla meringue—a delicious nutty and sweet final act.
Paige Riehl's poetry and prose have been published in many publications such as Meridian, South Dakota Review, and Nimrod International Journal. Recently poets Jude Nutter and Oliver de la Paz selected her as a winner of the 2012-2013 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry in Minneapolis. She also won first place in the 2011 Literal Latte Prize for Poetry and was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.