Life is like a Circus!

February 22, 2012

Italians have a saying: "Life is like a Circus!"

One of our most famous Italians here in America, Restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, has created a restaurant in the heart of Manhattan that reflects this sentiment: Osteria Del Circo offers exquisite Italian food, prepared with passion and served in an atmosphere reminiscent of an elegant circus.

Osteria Del Circo is, by all means, one of my favorite dining experiences.

The main dining room evokes a sense of big top wonder with a decidedly modern bent. Metal sculptures of clowns, swinging monkeys and other circus characters “perform” above diners as they enjoy delicacies from Sirio’s extensive menu.

Each dish is prepared with style under the attentive eye of gifted chef Michael Galata. True to the tradition of an Italian family run business, Osteria Del Circo is managed by Sirio’s sons, Mauro and Marco.

Yet this restaurant is more than just a watering hole for aficionados of Italian food. It is a miraculous achievement of enterprise; a flawless mechanism that incorporates all of the elements of Italian hospitality to create a series of memorable moments for each and every one of the diners. A slice of New York's social life finds a welcome stage under this circus tent. Yes, there is magic in this place!

And what does it take to create this? Nothing short of a small army of servers, performing twice a day, at lunch and dinner, with such natural efficiency that one hardly notices how carefully orchestrated it is.

Every circus needs a Ring Master, and when it comes to Osteria del Circo, Bruno Dussin is that man.

Bruno does not walk but rather glides across the vast dining room with elegance and poise. From his manners to his attire, Bruno is a fashion plate in motion. He is the purest depiction of classic haberdashery style. I once told Bruno that HE should be paid by his tailor for displaying his creations with such panache and class.

However, don’t be fooled; Bruno is far more than a perfectly cut suit. There is nothing casual about his doings; he is a man on a mission. He anticipates what is about to happen before it does. There is within him an urge to excel, an instinct that he cannot contain. In a world of average expectations, Bruno expects perfection. In fact, he demands it.

Throughout the day, Bruno subtly oversees the dining room like a commander over a battle field. He dispatches waiters and captains throughout the room with purpose and celerity using nothing more than quiet gestures that go unnoticed by all but the most attentive observers.

In the chaos of the busiest hour of dinner service, Bruno moves through the dining room. He sees all. He misses nothing. One look from his expressive eyes is all that is needed to rectify even the most minimal of transgressions. It could be as simple as a napkin set askew, a fork with a water spot, or a few errant crumbs on an otherwise pristine table cloth. Rest assured, it will be rectified within seconds.

While casually chatting with a patron, he imperceptibly looks to one of his captains and then across the room. White wine glasses are immediately replaced to accommodate the red wine on its way to the table.

He makes eye contact and caresses the top knot of his silk tie and a waiter in the midst of taking an order turns to help an elderly woman into her seat.

A napkin that has fallen on the ground is immediately picked up. As if by magic, a new one appears on the customer's lap.

Bruno finally stands calmly for a moment, running his fingers along the interior fold of his jacket’s lapel. A good sign, all is in order.

But then he goes back to the podium at the front of the room. He begins lightly turning the pages of the reservation book. While seemingly the casual fidgeting of a man taking a moment to himself, this is far more purposeful than it appears. Bruno is studying the reservation book, preparing in his mind a plan of action for the second wave of diners due to arrive within minutes.

Only a few tables are open, far less than he needs for the next seating. A quick look to the barman and another glance to one of his captains and bottles of Prosecco are opened and placed in chilled ice buckets by the entrance. Patrons are starting to arrive and a glass of the bubbly nectar will ease the short wait for a table.

And so the next act begins.

Yes, life is a circus, and under the tent of Osteria del Circo, Bruno is the unquestionable ringmaster.

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Photographs by: Ken Goodman

©2013 Nick Stellino Productions