Le Cirque


151 East 58th Street (@ Lexington Avenue)
New York, New York


5 Second Summary:

Price Range- Dinner Entrees $39-75 (at time of posting), Restaurant Week Lunch Price-Fixe $24
Ambiance- Upscale, expense-account, jacket-required New York City
Cuisine- French
Hits- Traditional fare executed beautifully
Misses- Very busy host station not always welcoming


Once again, I’ll preface this piece by noting that I visited Le Cirque during Restaurant Week, which isn’t always indicative of a restaurant’s normal “performance.”  Other upscale restaurants at which I dined during Restaurant Week, Del Posto being an example, did a fabulous job of maintaining their quality standards.  I got a courtesy call confirming the reservation, a warm welcome, and an innovative meal.  At Le Cirque… not so much.  While the service was exceptional and the food beautifully presented and cooked, there was no confirmation call, a hasty greeting, and a very traditional offering.  Le Cirque seems to turn over huge numbers during Restaurant Week and seems to be confident that its name and reputation alone are enough to satisfy.  I don’t disagree with that thinking, but the extra effort never hurts.


Upon arrival, the single host was on the phone.  “Please have a seat in the lounge,” he finally told me.  “The maître d‘ will seat you.”  Taking note of Le Cirque’s incredible, ceiling-high, glass wine storage, I waited for the attractive, young, female bartender to finish flirting with the two older gentlemen sitting separately at the bar before deigning to assist me.  Tempted by the Champagne Mendicato (“champagne and whatever Sergio wants”), I opted against openness and went for the more certain Strawberry French 75, Fragoli strawberry liqueur and champagne with wild Italian strawberries floating at the top.  While I waited for my drink to be ready, the host told me my table was ready.  When my drink was ready, my table was no longer ready.  Sigh. I sat down in the lounge.


Shortly thereafter, I was escorted to my table by waiters positively oozing charm.  A fleet of service staff smiled and sincerely made me feel welcome.


My meal began with a too-crusty baguette and sourdough bread (I’m a big fan of what Italian call the mollica, or the soft part of the bread) followed by potatio olive gnocchi in a ragu di trippa. Here is where Le Cirque shines.  The gnocchi were soft, light and fluffy in a sweet, fresh tomato sauce strongly influenced by a lovely mound of torn basil.  A subtle flavor of capers tied in with the fresh herb, and crisp breadcrumbs gave the dish a bit of texture.  The tripe was rich, earthy, perfectly cooked, and flavorful.


My entree was a bavette steak with oyster mushrooms and artichoke mousseline.  The steak was more medium than the medium-rare I had ordered but still flavorful, sweet, and tender.  What tasted slightly “fruity” to me was the steak’s marinade, made with wine and sweetened with ketchup, before it is grilled.  The oyster mushrooms were a lovely accompaniment: meaty and thick.  The whipped mousseline was beautifully accompanied by bok choy and black sesame seeds, which gave the dish’s underbelly creamy, nutty, smoky, and beefy flavors.


For dessert, I opted for the berry tart: a very light and buttery crust with a hint of almond flavoring (yum!), sweet fresh fruit held firmly in place by slightly obnoxious gelatine, and a yellow vanilla custard dotted with vanilla bean residue.  The first bite of vanilla and tart crust tasted like my childhood: a sweet, fresh, creamy, ice cream cone on a summer night.  It transported me back 25 years instantly.  A flourish of finely sprinkled bitter chocolate, which at first glance looked like powdered thyme or some other herb, completed the presentation.  (I almost wished it were thyme.)


Overall, the food was delicious.  I would like to try Le Cirque again during a non-Restaurant Week reservation.  The food was excellent, and I think a less busy time might give them the opportunity to show their true colors.  That said, they played it safe with a very traditional menu.  Le Cirque is a New York institution; it’s impressive, beautiful, and filled with beautiful people.  I just wished they would have tried a little harder to win me over.

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