Le Cirque

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The unlisted reservation number for Le Cirque 2000 was one of my more valuable possessions in the late ’90s—seven digits that would bypass the busy signal and, with any luck, land me a table before 10:45pm one night that month. When I called the listed number of the new Le Cirque a few weeks ago, a woman answered on the second ring. It was Tuesday afternoon, and I scored a table for 9:45pm that Friday. Then she told me to call back on Friday if I wanted an earlier time because “a lot of people don’t show.” Had Le Cirque really become this accessible? I hadn’t even laid eyes on the place and I was already disappointed.

Ruth Reichl wrote a legendary review of the original Le Cirque when she was at TheNew York Times, comparing two dramatically different visits: During the first, she was disguised as a dowdy woman (and treated as such), and during the second she received VIP treatment from owner Sirio Maccioni. Thirteen years and two incarnations of the eatery later, we re-created that experiment at the Bloomberg skyscraper location.

On Friday night, my sister and I reluctantly put on high-waisted pants and cheap clunky shoes, pulled our hair into ponytails and walked in expecting to be seated next to the busing station. We landed instead at a banquette, with a perfect view of the soaring dining room—vaguely fashioned to look like a big-top tent—and its collection of rich, old characters. Although none of the Maccionis stopped by to say hello, we encountered only attentive, friendly service. Even the sommelier treated us well, despite the fact that we told her to “just pick a red wine for $50.” When we asked to take home a swan-shaped cream puff from the petits fours tray, a server happily returned with two of them in a takeout bag.

By night’s end, the only real disappointment was the food: There was a large, sharp piece of shell in the crab salad—and big chunks of ice in the “Cherry on Top” frozen dessert. Two dishes reminded me of the old Le Cirque: an appetizer of perfectly cooked salt-cod ravioli and a small but rich entrée of Mozambique langoustines dressed tableside with a sauce made of red curry, ginger and kafir lime. But these weren’t enough to conjure the magic of dinners past; I could only hope that better hair, a pair of Sigerson Morrison stilettos and good connections would.

Four nights later—same time, same place—I arrived to dine with the TONY food editor, who had arranged the meal through the restaurant’s public-relations company. The staff at Le Cirque knew he was coming, so I was surprised when, 25 minutes later, we still weren’t seated.

But then the VIP service began. We were led to a four-seat table on the banquette, sprawling real estate for two diners. Sirio Maccioni’s middle son, Marco, stopped by twice to check on us. And the kitchen sent extra courses, including the langoustines and a dessert encased in dry ice that pumped smoke across the table (pictured). As we dove into the “Pot au Feu,” an overdesigned sculpture of chocolate, coconut and passionfruit, our neighbors stopped eating and looked at us—which is exactly what’s supposed to happen when you’re someone special at Le Cirque.

Our food wasn’t noticeably better when we were guests of the house. There were ups, like the smooth foie gras terrine with fig chutney and gewürztraminer gelée, and there were downs, like the same cherry dessert with the same stray pieces of ice. Everyone makes mistakes, but in a restaurant of this caliber, diners don’t want to pay for them. And that was the real beauty of the VIP dinner: At the end, we were thanked for coming and sent on our way without a bill. I could dissect my two meals down to every garnish and come to the same conclusion: The new Le Cirque is nothing like the old Le Cirque.

Ruth Reichl wrote a legendary review of the original Le Cirque when she was at TheNew York Times, comparing two dramatically different visits: During the first, she was disguised as a dowdy woman (and treated as such), and during the second she received VIP treatment from owner Sirio Maccioni. Thirteen years and two incarnations of the eatery later, we re-created that experiment at the Bloomberg skyscraper location.

On Friday night, my sister and I reluctantly put on high-waisted pants and cheap clunky shoes, pulled our hair into ponytails and walked in expecting to be seated next to the busing station. We landed instead at a banquette, with a perfect view of the soaring dining room—vaguely fashioned to look like a big-top tent—and its collection of rich, old characters. Although none of the Maccionis stopped by to say hello, we encountered only attentive, friendly service. Even the sommelier treated us well, despite the fact that we told her to “just pick a red wine for $50.” When we asked to take home a swan-shaped cream puff from the petits fours tray, a server happily returned with two of them in a takeout bag.

By night’s end, the only real disappointment was the food: There was a large, sharp piece of shell in the crab salad—and big chunks of ice in the “Cherry on Top” frozen dessert. Two dishes reminded me of the old Le Cirque: an appetizer of perfectly cooked salt-cod ravioli and a small but rich entrée of Mozambique langoustines dressed tableside with a sauce made of red curry, ginger and kafir lime. But these weren’t enough to conjure the magic of dinners past; I could only hope that better hair, a pair of Sigerson Morrison stilettos and good connections would.

Four nights later—same time, same place—I arrived to dine with the TONY food editor, who had arranged the meal through the restaurant’s public-relations company. The staff at Le Cirque knew he was coming, so I was surprised when, 25 minutes later, we still weren’t seated.

But then the VIP service began. We were led to a four-seat table on the banquette, sprawling real estate for two diners. Sirio Maccioni’s middle son, Marco, stopped by twice to check on us. And the kitchen sent extra courses, including the langoustines and a dessert encased in dry ice that pumped smoke across the table (pictured). As we dove into the “Pot au Feu,” an overdesigned sculpture of chocolate, coconut and passionfruit, our neighbors stopped eating and looked at us—which is exactly what’s supposed to happen when you’re someone special at Le Cirque.

Our food wasn’t noticeably better when we were guests of the house. There were ups, like the smooth foie gras terrine with fig chutney and gewürztraminer gelée, and there were downs, like the same cherry dessert with the same stray pieces of ice. Everyone makes mistakes, but in a restaurant of this caliber, diners don’t want to pay for them. And that was the real beauty of the VIP dinner: At the end, we were thanked for coming and sent on our way without a bill. I could dissect my two meals down to every garnish and come to the same conclusion: The new Le Cirque is nothing like the old Le Cirque.

Venue name: Le Cirque
Contact:
Address: 151 E 58th St
New York

Cross street: between Lexington and Third Aves
Opening hours: Mon–Fri 11:45am–2:30pm, 5:30–11pm; Sat 5:30–11pm
Transport: Subway: N, R, W to Lexington Ave–59th St; 4, 5, 6, to 59th St
Price: Three-course prix fixe: $92. Four-course: $120. AmEx, MC, V

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|2
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Jackie P.

Le Cirque is a fun, upscale place to dine. They offer unique food choices and the decor is most playful. The wine choices are fantastic and the food has SO much flavor. The service is attentive and professional...will definitely come back!

NYCFoodLover

Delicious food, decadent flavors, lovely presentation. Festive decor reminds one of a circus. A must do NY experience