In the lounge, it’s Le Cirque in blue jeans.
151 E. 58th St. (between Lexington and Third Aves)
Dinner, Mon.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; lunch, 11:45 a.m.-3 p.m.
CUISINE Modern French
VIBE Elegant institution
OCCASION Business lunch, romantic date, family affair
DON’T-MISS DISHES Tuna with avocado tapenade, duck and green-mango salad, crème brûlée.
AVERAGE PRICE Cafe prix fixe, $35; appetizers/entrées, $17; dessert, $12.
RESERVATIONS Accepted but not necessary.
I wore jeans to Le Cirque. My friend wore jeans and sneakers, and they didn’t throw us out.
I felt a little guilty, but no one winced at us. Not even Sirio Maccioni,
who still runs the show. What’s Le Cirque without Sirio — the man who
wrote the playbook on working the dining room and keeping the rich and
But these days, Sirio runs the show from a table near the door.
Across from Sirio’s up-front office is a pop-up bookshop where you can
buy a copy of the Le Cirque cookbook, “Sirio: The Story of My Life and
Le Cirque” (the English or Italian version), and Barbarba Walter‘s memoir, “Audition.” And just this past December, HBO
produced a documentary called “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven.” The DVD
can be purchased on Le Cirque’s Web site, but the documentary really
tells the story of the old Le Cirque.
I ate dinner at a new Le Cirque. It is no longer a restaurant. It’s a relic, really, the original, iconic supper club.
Other restaurants have achieved institution status — the Four
Seasons, the ’21’ Club and the Rainbow Room. But none are invulnerable
to time and the shifting economy. The ’21’ Club loosened its tie
policy, the Four Seasons swallowed its pride with a $59 anniversary
menu, and who knows what’s to become of the Rainbow Room.
Then there’s Le Cirque. There’s still a jacket policy — tie optional
— in the dining room, still silver sneeze lids over the plates,
tableside theatrics and a $92 prix-fixe menu. And there’s still a
secret menu that only members know about — Dover sole, pasta primavera, and roasted chicken for two.
About a year ago, the Maccioni family turned the cafe into a lounge
where can you kick back in your sneakers and order a glass of wine and
mini-cheeseburgers. (There’s also a $35 prix-fixe menu.)
Sirio’s sons — Mauro and Marco — are the new welcoming committee. And there’s young blood in the kitchen too — Craig Hopson, who worked at Picholine and One If by Land, Two If by Sea.
What’s so great about the lounge is that you can get so many of the
dishes that are also served in the dining room. Those are the ones you
want to order.
The best is the tuna — smoky ribbons of sashimi layered with fresh
clementine, sesame tuile and an unexpected jolt of avocado tapenade
that tastes like fancy guacamole. Another good crossover dish is the
sautéed shrimp with cilantro, kaffir lime and carrot confit.
But some of the lounge-only dishes are no slouches. Like the pavé of
veal breast — braised, breaded and served with a coffee-cardamom jus,
roasted pear and wisp of pecorino. The duck and green-mango salad is a
lounge-only dish, too — an excellent mix of duck confit, duck
cracklings, puffed rice and shredded mango in a lime vinaigrette.
But how do you mess up fried calamari or chicken paillard or lobster consommé?
Somehow, Hopson manages to, which is odd considering his résumé.
The dessert menu is the same in the dining room and the lounge, but
all you need to know is this: Le Cirque makes the best crème brûlée in
the city. And the recipe’s right there on the dish.
I also love the millefeuille, but skip the pineapple carpaccio with a gritty lemongrass sorbet and the ginger panna cotta.
Oh, by the way, don’t try the jeans-and-sneakers bit in the main dining room. It only works in the cafe.