Just what the East Village needs: another trendy hipster restaurant.
On opening night Shalom, Marisa Tomei, Molly Ringwald and members of the band Belly were tripping over each other and all the black-clad locals who had packed into the space and an outdoor tent that was pitched next door.
But, this restaurant is a little different. "Circa is all about the Spanish architect Gaudi, and Jujol, who was something like his interior designer," says the restaurant's designer Peter Sibilia, gesturing toward the curvy white plaster walls, copper tables, and photos from Barcelona.
Since designing the SoHo hot spot Naked Lunch, Sibilia has moved away from the familiar dark, livingroom-style spaces. "You have to take a chance with something fresh and new." His version of fresh incorporates classic Gaudi details with 1940s furniture. Set on the gritty corner of Second Avenue and Sixth Street, Circa hopes to attract the same hip crowd now snubbing the nightclubs and making chic boites, like nearby Bowery Bar and Mekka, their evening out. The previous tenant of Circa's spot, Jerry's 103, was, says Sibilia "all about light and sunshine," and he worked to keep that brightness in Circa. The restaurant's front windows--actually floor-to-ceiling sliding doors--will brighten up the space and give bar patrons a view of Second Avenue street life as well as open onto a sidewalk cafe this spring.
The menu is light, too. Chef Bruce Barnes, formerly of Harvest, describes his version of new American cuisine as "very, very down home cooking with a flair," the flair meaning Asian, Italian and Spanish influences. Inspired by the trend to share small plates, Barnes is calling his large appetizers "tastings." Along with entrees like lobster-and-chive wontons in a bouillabaisse broth, gnocchi with broccoli rabe and grilled tuna, there are pizzas prepared in his wood-burning oven: for example a thin, whole wheat crust pizza with grilled artichoke and asparagus that's actually low-fat. The desserts, however, are not for low-fat lovers.
The prices are on the high end for the East Village: about 40 to 60 dollars for a meal for two, but reasonable by typical New York restaurant standards. And you don't just get food: you get people-watching.
The five young co-owners have had good timing--or perhaps luck: they opened right before fashion week. The Los Angeles clothing line, Van Buren, gave a party after its New York fashion show debut, and fashion packsters like Sophia Coppola and Zoe Cassavetes have already made their way down.
Two of the owners--Stacey Pisone and Susan Leonard--are the only ones who have restaurant experience. They owned Hurrah in the Hamptons, and Pisone is a silent partner in the West Village restaurant Orbit. Still, Circa has managed to attract some of the spillover from the Bowery Bar, which is already getting a rep for being what Circa partner Michelle Jean calls "elitest." At least Circa has no door policy. And the wait staff seems, momentarily, more interested in serving than furthering their own careers. "Leave good tips," said Shalom on opening night. Why this sudden burst of generosity? Her friend is a waitress there.
"We don't want to be a flash in the pan," says Mark Thomas, another owner, surveying the crowd. "We want to be a big part of the life of this neighborhood--and New York."
While nobody wants to be a flash in the pan, Circa is certainly the hot place of this moment.
Until the next one comes along. And it probably won't be more than a block away.

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