Le Cirque, NYC

April 15, 2009

On March 10, 2009, Grub Street, the gossipy restaurant blog from New York magazine, reported:

Former One If by Land, Two If by Sea chef and Picholine alum Craig Hopson joined Le Cirque in November, and you can try his food on a $74, seven-course value menu pegged to its founding in 1974. The bargain, available through April, is meant to “bring in foodies” instead of the one-time (stingier) Restaurant Week diners, Hopson told us at a preview last night. The chef’s dishes are spiked with global flavors and unexpected pairings, like chocolate pastry laced with duck confit. But while the food is contemporary, Le Cirque feels like an eighties haunt – you can even order smoked salmon, Dover sole, and chocolate soufflé off the menu.

Anyway, a reasonably priced menu meant to bring in foodies to a legendary restaurant sounded like something to try so Linda and I went for dinner on April 10, 2009.
Le Cirque’s glory years were 1986 to 1992 when Daniel Boulud was the chef. It had the top four-star rating in the New York Times. It was the place to see and be seen in New York for celebrities, society and power brokers. Since then, it has moved twice and the NYT  downgraded its cuisine to two stars. After its move into the new Bloomberg building in 2006, Le Cirque’s legendary proprietor and master of ceremonies, Sirio Maccioni, decided to regain its stars. In 2008 the NYT restored the third star, but this was not enough for the ringmaster. He changed chefs again last fall with an objective of restoring the fourth star. Many are doubtful it can be done in the face of a stodgy core clientèle, but that was what we were there to research.

We ordered glasses of champagne and looked at the menu. The usual offering is a three-course meal at $92 with substantial choices in each course from the printed menu and from the insert with the day’s specials. The Chef’s Tasting Menu was indeed $74 and was only slightly changed from what Grub Street had initially reported. Linda asked for substitutions for the oyster and the chocolate dessert, which were cheerfully granted.

 We skipped the $60 wine pairings and ordered a bottle of 2007 Sanford (Santa Rita Hills) Pinot Noir which we enjoyed. It had good varietal characteristics, although much too young to be at its best.

There was no amuse-gueule, but the first courses came right away. Linda had a special of the day
Spring Pea Soup
My starter was 
Kumamoto Oyster
Champagne essence, seaweed-watercress salad

lca 
The soup had an excellent fresh pea flavor and good texture. Also in the bowl were fresh peas, pearl onions and a bit of bacon which complemented the pea flavor.
The kumamoto oyster was nice, although I don’t understand why NY chefs use California oysters. The foam actually did have champagne flavor, unlike many tasteless foams we are served nowadays. The greens were particularly nice, but they were like a separate course as one had to enjoy the oyster in one bite.
The menu continued:
~
Rabbit, Foie Gras, and Bacon Terrine
Granny Smith gelée and tempura squash

The three meats in the terrine joined nicely to give a flavorful terrine. The Granny apple batons and gel were good, but the whole combination seemed somewhat commonplace for an upscale restaurant. The tempura squash was lovely, but had no relationship to the rest of the dish.
~
Wild Burgundy Escargot
Gruyère gnocchi, fiddlehead fern, and bottarga


This dish didn’t hang together at all. The fiddleheads were a seasonal update from the hedgehog mushrooms on the original menu announced a month before. Unfortunately, they had been pickled, disappointing those who were expecting seasonal fresh ones. None of the four ingredients in this dish went well with any of the others. Boo.
~
Black Sea Bass
Steamed with morels, rhubarb broth


This was also a seasonal update from the original menu’s bacon and orange broth. The rhubarb on top had been candied, which gave a bit of uneeded sweetness, but avoided the need to prepare fresh rhubarb every day. When compared to the similar crispy skin bass we had enjoyed at Le Bernadin the week before, this was not in the same league.
~
Duck Breast
Kumquats, chocolate-peppercorn vinaigrette


We really enjoyed this. The sauce was unusual and perfect for the nicely cooked duck breasts. I was reminded of a Mexican mole, although this was more subtle. The chocolate feuilleté with duck leg confit, which isn’t even in the menu description, was scrumptious. Kumquats were just the right counterpoint. Bravo.
~
Gianduja Chocolate Ganache
Hazelnut financier and Frangelico ice cream


The hazelnut flavored cake and ice cream are a great combination with the rich dark chocolate.

Linda’s dessert was
Honey Roasted Pear
walnut sauce, gorgonzola ice cream.

The gorgonzola ice cream was superb and went perfectly with the pear and walnuts. It was too bad that there wasn’t more of it.

There was a nice little tray of petits fours.

They were light and delicious. The dessert and pastry chef was the star of the evening. I wonder if he even made the successful chocolate feuilleté for the duck.

We enjoyed some of the meal, but it was not consistent enough to “bring in foodies” or to impress them. 

On the way out we admired the huge chocolate Easter egg. We could have been on the Via Veneto.

 http://www.lecirque.com

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