Circa, a hip, upscale restaurant in Center City Philadelphia, is right on the money, and not just because it's set in a former bank. What really distinguishes this chic, beautiful eatery is Alfonso Contrisciani's "innovative American regional cuisine," as the Main Line Times described it. The restaurant, the article went on to say, is "one of the stars on Walnut Street's Restaurant Row." (And it's got some stiff competition, including Le Bec-Fin, Brasserie Perrier, Susanna Foo, Striped Bass, and Il Portico.)
But Contrisciani can swim with the big fish. He is, after all, America's youngest certified master chef, one of an elite company of just 53 who have passed the grueling, highly competitive ten-day test given annually by the American Culinary Federation. "He is a master of things the rest of us can't even pronounce," Circa proprietor David Mantelmacher once joked.
Contrisciani started cooking as a teen-ager-"I always lived to cook," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. He enrolled at Johnson & Wales (he later taught at his alma mater), then spent 12 years at several casinos in Atlantic City. In 1996 he returned to Philadelphia, his hometown, to become chef/proprietor of Opus 251. Two years later, Contrisciani took over at Circa, where today his delicious food easily holds its own with the striking setting. In his kitchen, he confidently travels around the globe, producing such dishes as soy-glazed Chilean sea bass with Thai coconut sauce or roast chicken with lemon herb rub, grilled fennel, and blood orange jus. "Everything on this menu sounds so delicious, it is almost impossible to make a choice," Joel Weiner wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News. Circa has won a prestigious DiRoNA award and four Best of Philly nods from Philadelphia magazine.
This month, Alfonso Contrisciani's your man for delectable food at the Beard House. You can bank on it.
Sevruga and Black Pepper Crème Fraîche on Buckwheat Blini
Maine Lobster and Chanterelles Wrapped in Phyllo
Black Angus Tartare on Horseradish Melba Toast
Smoked Chicken, Avocado, and Roasted Tomato Roulades with Cumin Crème Fraiche
Terrine of Pheasant and Foie Gras with Sauternes Gelée, Upland Cress, Quince Chutney, and Toasted Brioche
Poached Belon Oysters with Salsify Gratin, Champagne Cream, and American Sturgeon Caviar
Mimosa Fizz with Blood Orange Sorbet
Spiced Cervena Venison Loin with Roasted Chestnut and Mustard Glace, Braised Savoy Cabbage with Apple-Smoked Bacon, Rutabaga Flan, Haricots Verts, and Sweet Potato Frites
Port-Poached Bosc Pears with Young Arugula, Shaved Fennel, Gorgonzola, and White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Roasted Apple and Mascarpone Cream with Rugelach Lattice, Orange, Black Currant, and Mint Essence