Sirio: New Restaurant, Old-School Touch

Back when the original Le Cirque was still in the Mayfair Hotel, I was lucky enough sometime in the '80s  to be treated to a meal there by my father-in-law with my wife (his daughter) for what must have been a special occasion. My wife and I were in awe of the elegant yet cozy atmosphere. The food is seared into my taste consciousness to this day: cheese soufflé, lobster risotto, îles flottantes, and crème brûlée. Even my subsequent visits to Paris did not diminish my memory of those dishes, which were somehow more Parisian than similar dishes I had in Paris itself. The simplicity of the very finest ingredients coupled with the pinnacle of gastronomic technique rendered the dishes unrivaled in their perfection. I will confess that my lunch at the successor Le Cirque 2000 in The Palace Hotel was a bit disappointing, as I felt the carnival-like atmosphere and somewhat glitzy décor overwhelmed the food, which was still quite good.

My wife and I recently dined at the latest incarnation of Le Cirque in the Bloomberg Tower. While still a larger space than the original in the Mayfair Hotel, this version of the restaurant retains the elegance, if not the intimacy, of the original. And the food? We ordered (what else?): cheese soufflé, lobster risotto, îles flottantes, and crème brûlée. The latter dessert Le Cirque actually lays claim to inventing or at least popularizing in Americ,a as is demonstrated by the original recipe being inscribed on the bottom of the porcelain ramekin in which the luxurious "burnt cream" is served. Again, who needs Paris?

I later attended the pre-opening "friends and family" party for Sirio Ristorante in The Pierre Hotel. The new restaurant could not accommodate the 1,000s of celebrity, rich and famous, crème de la crème of the New York food and social scene who count themselves (as he does) as friends and family of Sirio Maccioni. So I could not really get a feeling for the diminutive Sirio Ristorante as the party spilled over into the hotel. I finally got to have lunch last week, to experience the Italian "casual" concept of the eponymous Sirio.

Though long and narrow like a hotel coffee shop, Sirio Ristorante transported me back to the feeling I got upon entering the original Le Cirque all those years ago. The service was spectacular without being intrusive. Though the crowd was certainly well-heeled, it still felt like a neighborhood restaurant (at least if your neighborhood is around Fifth Avenue and 61st Street). Like the atmosphere, the food combined luxury with simplicity. The asparagus were pencil-thin and perfectly cooked and tucked under a blanket of two fried eggs au gratin, which themselves were under a layer of shaved black truffles. I reluctantly traded half of that dish to taste the beef carpaccio with Parmesan, baby bok choy, lemongrass, and of course, more black truffles, which was equally amazing and comforting.

For a main dish, the pan-fried breaded vitello Milanese needed no garnish other than a squeeze of lemon and the garlicky broccoli rabe which accompanied it. A very reasonably priced and eminently drinkable 2009 barbera was available by the glass. As the veal scallopine was the size of a hubcap and could easily have fed two, I was regrettably, too stuffed for dessert. Instead I opted for a shot of homemade fresh limoncello, which the waiter assured me, though I had no doubt, was made by none other than Mr. Maccioni himself.

Sirio was not there so I could not thank him personally, but his limitless spirit of hospitality and generosity clearly was present throughout the room.

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