Circa is proving that it is possible to open a new restaurant in these trying times and succeed. This busy, newish, Mineola Italian trattoria is also proving that it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to pull it off—just upscale atmosphere, downscale prices and familiar, recognizable dishes that often yield big, bold flavors.
Circa, owned by two veteran restaurateurs (Jerry Sbarro and Joseph DeLorenzo) with seasoned kitchen commander Mark Serrantino as executive chef, is a handsome place with a pleasant buzz about it. There’s a stone fireplace in the center of a comfortable room of banquettes, dark wood walls, leather chairs, bare tile floors, polished wood tables and woven brown placemats with a glass-enclosed wine room.
There’s nothing unusual on Circa’s extensive menu of familiar parmigiana, cacciatore, Francese, Milanese, Marsala, Bolognese and carbonara dishes. Fortunately, most of them are quite good. All four starters at a recent dinner delivered. The leek soup of the day ($7) was rich, thick and smooth; two good eggplant rollatini ricotta ($8.50) torpedoes yielded rustic, upfront flavor; the Circa salad ($9.50) of baby spinach, goat cheese, strawberries, hearts of palm and candied pecans in a warm bacon vinaigrette, was an ambitious success; and four strips of smoked duck breast on baby arugula with honey mustard aioli were tangy, tasty, though pricey ($13) treats. All of which were preceded by a diverse breadbasket featuring excellent warm focaccia and a crisp, thin-crusted pizza Margherita ($9.50).
Entrées batted .500. Aside from a zesty hunk of sausage penne, Circa was under seasoned and uninteresting, and chicken Milanese got almost all of its flavor from its salad plate mate. But tender mushroom-smothered veal Madeira and a fresh filet of sole Oreganato napped in a velvety lemon white wine, garlic sauce both scored. Though the fish’s accompanying gnocchi had a chalky texture.
The dinner concluded with a coffee dominated tiramisu, a lovely, silken crème brulee, Nutella biscotti or three long, hard chocolate cookies with almonds and dried cranberries, and an Amaretto mousse that tasted much more like a good, intense chocolate mousse than anything Amaretto.

richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.