Circe is a big-city restaurant in a small city. What makes me say this? At face value, maybe it’s the huge drinks served in a narrow building. More subtly, it’s the restaurant’s ability to serve high-end food with a kind of nonchalance not seen in Providence’s other heavy-hitter fine dining restaurants.
The restaurant had been on my mind after I attended a Rhode Island Historical Society tour of restaurants in historical buildings. We spent a few minutes in front of Circe on Weybosset Street, learning that it was designed in the 1850s for the Bank of North America by Thomas Tefft. Tefft was a prolific architect even though he died young, in his early thirties. You may have walked by one of his other buildings such as RISD’s Memorial Hall on Benefit Street (once a church), though most of his creations have not survived the years.
If you drink, order a cocktail at Circe. It’s not surprising that the cocktails here are top notch: Circe’s owner, Carlo Carlozzi, was previously a popular bartender at 10 Prime Steak & Sushi. The bar’s namesake, the goddess Circe, was just as famous for her elixirs. Though I was taking the night off from drinking, my husband went all in with the Mamma Sporca. This self-proclaimed “dirty mother” of a martini is spiced with olive and pepperoncini juice, and served with black truffle and blue cheese stuffed olives. I’ll be back for one next time I need a stiff drink.
We visited during Providence Restaurant Weeks, which usually runs for two weeks in January and again in July. Dinner specials during the event are around $30 to $35 and include three courses. I love perusing the menus when they are released and choosing one or two to visit. There are two types of restaurants I look for: those that have a creative menu just for the occasion, and those that include quality choices from the restaurant’s current menu. Circe fits the latter category, with eight appetizers, eight entrees and five desserts. As most are from the regular menu, diners can get an affordable preview of the restaurant’s capabilities.
For our first course, we started with the Short Rib Arancini and Watermelon Gazpacho. The arancini were served five to an order, freshly fried and accompanied by a tangy pineapple chili relish. I was surprised to find an impressive amount of short rib stuffed inside. The watermelon in the gazpacho nicely set off the fresh tomato, and the crab and Narragansett Creamery feta coupled well with the soup’s fresh summer flavors.
For my second course, I had the Crab and Lobster Caramelle. Caramelle are filled pasta, similar in size to ravioli, but with an adorable twist: the ends are pinched to look like wrapped candies. In this dish, they were paired with seared scallops from Georges Bank, a fishing region east of Cape Cod. The pasta and scallops were served over sauteed spinach, topped with a creamy champagne sauce. Many New England restaurants have lobster ravioli on the menu; I thought this was a more creative and nuanced variant of the dish. My husband had the Bacon Wrapped Angus Tenderloin. It was served with a single black truffle ravioli over green beans. Compared to filets we’ve ordered elsewhere recently, this one was especially flavorful.
For dessert, I ordered the English Summer Pudding. It was somewhere between a bread pudding and a trifle, layering spongy cake with a fruit compote, and was served with vanilla gelato. My husband’s choice was the Lemon Blueberry Crème Brûlée. A talented brûlée maker himself, he was impressed with the lemon zest flavor throughout the custard.
We were seated upstairs on Circe’s partial indoor balcony near the restaurant’s front window, a perfect spot for people watching. On this rainy summer day, colorful umbrellas danced on the slick street below. Looking through the shell of the building across the street, we were reminded of the many layers of Providence’s rich history.
Circe Restaurant & Bar
50 Weybosset Street