Restaurant Review: CIRCA offers new upscale dining, drinking spot

CIRCA, a bar and restaurant specializing in gourmet American classics and cocktails, is quickly becoming the new Foggy Bottom happy hour spot. Think of Founding Farmers but with fewer bureaucrats and more young professionals.

Our waitress was friendly and very knowledgeable of the menu, turning me on to one of the night’s specialties – tomato based vegetable and seafood soup with scallops, crab and squid – before I even had a chance to look at the menu.

From scrumptious appetizers like lobster ravioli, $12.50, and filet mignon sliders, $14.50, to hearty salads with fresh seasonal produce, ranging from $7 to $18 and succulent American “Culinary Creations” such as braised short ribs, $21 and jambalaya pasta, $19, the entire menu sounded appealing.

I always appreciate a waitress who knows the menu well, and ours was no exception. She was happy to recommend personal and crowd favorites, leading us to share the $10 “CIRCA Mac & Cheese,” $5.50 soup of the day and $20 steak frites.

For the macaroni and cheese, curly Cavatappi noodles were dressed in a creamy Parmesan sauce just thick enough to coat the noodles but thin enough to still feel light. Bits of smoked prosciutto added a salty bite and asparagus spears definitely reduced my guilt of eating such a rich and hearty dish. The seafood soup was warm and spicy with corn, tomatoes and beans. Four mini fried scallops laid on top of the soup, which seemed to be the only sign of seafood. The soup had great flavor and texture, but it left me searching for crab and squid that didn’t exist.

The wait between our appetizers and entrée was extended but CIRCA’s location gives ample opportunity for people-watching, so the wait wasn’t too bad.

Per the waitress’ suggestion, we ordered our steaks medium, as she said the kitchen tends to undercook their meat. The steak was thinly sliced with an appropriate amount of pink on the inside, charred on the outside and altogether cooked perfectly. The gravy-like sauce was a great compliment to the meat and the French fries, which were crispy and lightly salted.

For dessert, we ordered the $9 seasonal crisp, which was filled with warm apples and tart cranberries, all under a thick blanket of walnut crumb topping and a scoop of cinnamon gelato. By itself, the topping was a little dry, but the dessert worked well in combination with the steaming fruit and ice-cold gelato.

It may not be the perfect spot for an intimate dinner, but CIRCA is a great place to meet friends for drinks. I will definitely be back to try more of the dinner – and comfort brunch – specials.

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