When I visit a restaurant, I sometimes imagine the conversations its creators had. What were they thinking? Why did they invest money in this concept? How did they miss the flashing neon orange warning signs that their business plan was doomed?
My newest morbid fascination is Circo TX, a 25,000-square-foot high-end restaurant in Uptown that’s based on an original Circo in New York City. What follows is the imagined Circo TX marketing pitch that played in my mind after two dinners there. I make three caveats. First, this dialogue between hypothetical investors is purely a work of imagination, not an attempt to capture the thinking of the actual ownership. Second, the restaurant unveiled yet another full menu redesign as we went to press, and, in fairness, it looks superior to the two menus previous. Third, my waiters were unfailingly charming and helpful, and I hope to see them again at their next jobs.
“This restaurant is a Dallas spinoff of a New York restaurant that was already a spinoff?”
“That’s right. The original Circo was the more casual, 1990s version of Le Cirque, which famously treated its celebrity guests like royalty and its ordinary customers like dirt. We don’t do that at Circo, except sometimes we send out free crunchy focaccia bread and sometimes we don’t. So that’s the concept we’re bringing to Texas.”
“I didn’t know focaccia was meant to be crunchy. Is Circo more affordable, too?”
“Goodness, no. Each diner will pay at least $75 for dinner, and that’s before considering tax, tip or any drink other than tap water. This will be a fine-dining experience. It’s also a humongous complex with an upstairs bar, a members-only club and a glass-bottomed swimming pool over the driveway.”
“The website says Circo won the James Beard Award for ‘Outstanding Restaurant’ in 1995. That’s pretty cool.”
“That was actually Le Cirque. They share a founder, so we figured we can advertise it. Also, our ownership group didn’t technically win that award. We licensed the rights to the Circo name from the original family.”
“So who’s in charge? I hear a rumor you’re bringing in former Le Cirque chef Alfio Longo.”
“He’ll help develop the menu for opening. Then we’ll hire a youngster, Eddie Barron, who will last just long enough to have his photo taken in D Magazine before we replace him with a former FT33 sous chef named Justin Mosley. Because we only got a handful of recipes from the original Circo, each new chef will completely redesign our menu.”
“You’re sinking millions of dollars into this place, right? Aren’t you concerned that you’re setting inexperienced chefs up to fail?”
“Well, maybe. But the food’s not going to be complicated.”
“Wait, but you said it’s $75 and up for dinner.”
“Sure. People will pay for the prestige of our name. Going to Circo is like driving a Bentley. You don’t do it because you want a great car. You do it because you want other people to think you have a great car. Take our signature pasta dish, the cacio e pepe. It’s $21 because we take the pasta and toss it in a hollowed-out bowl carved from a wheel of Parmesan. But when you order it, honestly, it just tastes like noodles.”
“There’s no sauce?”
“Yeah, there’s sauce, but it doesn’t really have any flavor. The Brussels sprouts side dish is kind of the same way. We throw them in a skillet with pancetta and olive oil and no seasonings, and we can charge $9 for that. Our signature ravioli is just ricotta filling, butter drizzle and, like, seven cranks of the pepper mill, and it tastes pretty good with all that butter. But it’s $24.”
“Small plates are in right now. Will we do small plates?”
“Are you kidding? Every plate is a small plate at Circo TX. The Caesar salad comes with 10 leaves of lettuce for $13, and we bunch it on one side of the plate so people see how small it is. You should see our tordelli pasta. That’s a shape that looks like an envelope, with the flap open and meat inside. We’re using duck confit. It’s probably the most flavorful pasta we serve, because the duck is good and there are little cubes of butternut squash. So we only give them four of the tordelli, and we charge $24 for the plate.”
“Wow. $6 per noodle.”
“There will probably be some customers who think they can get appetizers and pastas and call it a full meal, but they can’t. You really need to order four courses if you don’t want to stop for a cheeseburger on the drive home.”
“Sounds like a lot of folks will try this $35 chicken. That’s a lot of money for chicken.”
“The plate is all browns and tans. It’s our elevated take on desert camo pants. We overcook the chicken until rubbery, then burn the skin and serve it alongside this puree that tastes like spicy licorice.”
“What’s with the smoked herb on top? It looks like it’ll get people high.”
“Trust me, it has exactly the opposite effect.”
“Sounds like everyone will be ordering dessert. That’s good. This $14 tiramisu looks cool.”
“It’s served inside a dark chocolate sphere that’s spray-painted with edible silver. It’s tiny, but pretty cool, and it tastes delicious. They’ll love sharing it on Instagram.”
“The original Le Cirque didn’t invent creme brulee, but they made it a hit. There was hardly any creme brulee in the United States before that, and you’re using the original recipe.”
“Exactly. People will feel like they’re eating a slice of history, even though our menu spells it with an extraneous umlaut. But really, it tastes just like good creme brulee from anywhere. We do add a little bonus to make it worth $12. We print the recipe on the bottom of the crock.”
“That spares customers from ever needing to come back. Is it true that Jackie Onassis helped write the original recipe?”
“Yes, and we’ve trained our staff to always refer to her as Onassis, as a reminder that her first husband was murdered a couple of miles down the street.”
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“The Circo concept is obsessed with celebrity. Jackie’s face is emblazoned on a curtain in the dining room. The social media feed shows Andrea Bocelli getting Circo delivered, and the upstairs bar has a whole wall of letters from celebrities. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to use this one signed ‘Melania and Donald,’ though.”
“Sure it is. Dallas is in Texas, and if there’s two things we know about Texas, it’s that everybody there loves Trump, and nobody there knows anything about good Italian food. That’s what we’re counting on.”
“Impeccable. With market research like that, our restaurant could stay open for months!”
Circo TX, 2619 McKinney Ave. 469-440-8843, circotx.com. Open Monday through Wednesday 5-10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 5-11 p.m.