What makes a legend last? My answer is growth, adaptation, and continued commitment to the qualities that created the "legend" in the first place. Think of James Bond in his tuxedo. In each Bond movie from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, we've always seen Bond looking sharp, setting style, yet being both traditional and au courant at the same time.
That tuxedo analogy is one that was used to describe both the growth and consistency of Le Cirque by Marco Maccioni, the director and co-proprietor of the restaurant. He runs the place with his brother Mauro and their father — and here comes that word again — the legendary Sirio Maccioni.
"We're not following trends, but evolving in a modern way," Marco told me. "If you want to define what kind of a restaurant we are, you could say we are a French restaurant with an Italian soul, but my father, Sirio, likes to put it simply this way: 'We are a New York restaurant.'"
Le Cirque has been in business for forty-two years. It's now in its third location at Beacon Court, the building which houses Bloomberg News, situated in a courtyard between Lexington and Third and Fifty-eighth and Fifty-ninth streets. In 1995 it was named the Best Restaurant in the U.S. by the James Beard Foundation.
The glorious food coming from the kitchen these days is a sounding call to food lovers everywhere to come and revisit Le Cirque and try the creations of the hot new chef in town. He's Massimo Bebber, the first Italian chef in the restaurant's history. He follows decades of outstanding French Chefs who've steered Le Cirque on its path to greatness. Those chefs have included Alain Sailhac, Daniel Boulud, Sotha Kuhn, Sylvan Portain, and Pierre Schaedelin.
Executive Chef Bebber comes from a food-loving Italian family in Northern Italy. He began his long apprenticeship as a teenager working in several restaurants in Italy and then coming to New York to cook for Cipriani. His goal is to "refresh the great Le Cirque classics" like paupiette of black bass, Dover sole, and the lobster salad. In addition, he's adding new, harmonious masterpieces of his own to the menu.
A recent five-course tasting menu of Le Cirque dishes from Executive Chef Bebber proved to be the most outstanding meal I've had anywhere this year. I dined with two companions, here it is as presented with our comments.
Baccala Mantecato, polenta chips, piquillo pepper vinaigrette
A most interesting sample of perfection to get us started.
Burrata cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, stone fruit panzanella salad
This was a delectable blend of flavors! An "airy melange"!
Poached egg, pan seared oyster mushrooms, black truffle and porcini sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano
A potent combination of luxurious tastes, beautifully displayed.
Squid ink homemade pasta, bottarga di muggine, mascarpone cheese, pistachio & lemon powder
Vibrant taste in a sophisticated Italian dish. Rich, sweet and mellow with an Art Deco plating style.
Pan-seared Mediterranean branzino filet, celery root puree, puttanesca sauce
Here chef Bebber tips his toque to a classic French preparation of fish. The result is an electric combination of tastes.
Pan-seared grass-fed veal chop, butternut squash puree, mushrooms, fava beans, truffle sauce
A dish for all seasons that likely recalls some of Chef Bebber's Northern Italian influences.
Lemon sorbet, fresh pineapple, elderflower foam
This petite course did exactly what an Intermezzo is supposed to do: shift our taste buds to anticipate the spectacular dessert that was to follow.
Passion fruit souffle
Blood orange semifreddo
A perfect, sophisticated ending to a sublime meal.
Just a note that after a long and interesting evening of fine dining, we had a sense of being satisfied and completely comfortable (not "stuffed), which was a tribute to the freshness of the ingredients and the proper portion of the servings.
Le Cirque is a restaurant with true savoir faire. That experience will begin as soon as you enter and are greeted warmly by the long-time the maitre d', Mario Wainer. He will extend to you the service that has made Le Cirque renowned, and that is the simple fact that the customers' experience is the highest priority. The sound quality and lighting are also excellent.
Marco Maccioni states it perfectly: "Le Cirque is an owner-driven restaurant. For all of our fame, we are at heart a family restaurant, founded by my father, who always says, ' The star of the show at Le Cirque is the customer' ".
Go and be pampered like a star!