The poached pear with cardamom gelato at Sirio Ristorante; photography by Evan Sung
Sirio Sour. Grumpy Conquistador. That’s the Maccioni boys poking fun at Papa on the elegant and tongue-in-cheek $16 cocktail list at Sirio Ristorante, freshly installed at The Pierre, in the narrow alley where London transplant Le Caprice just never quite “got” New York. “I’m too old to retire,” Sirio tells friends who lament as he limps by, pausing to vent his rage when he spies a familiar face in the upper-crust lunch crowd. “We shouldn’t be open yet,” he rants. He’s Le Cirque’s aging ringmaster, after all, and lately he’s not getting his way. “We aren’t ready to open.”
But the family’s Taj Hotel partners at The Pierre—and Hurricane Sandy, which brought a deluge of affluent hungry, turning midtown into downtown—ruled otherwise. A chance for a gradual, serene opening faded.
Maccioni’s sons are determined to create a casual canteen against the patriarch’s Old World vision, and they greet aging Le Cirque regulars and their heat-seeking offspring. Le Cirque’s house architect, Adam Tihany, has installed a lacquered and mirrored La Dolce Vita setting, with thick carpeting to muffle the stylish din. And hear François Latapie at the door—you’ll remember him from La Goulue: “You can’t say no to Tommy Hilfiger.” Or Ronald Perelman, or Lillian Vernon, or Hal Rubenstein. Accordingly, Sirio Ristorante opened, ready or not, priced to discourage the riffraff—figure $100 for dinner, and more if you’re thirsty.
Filippo Gozzoli, a Cremona, Italy-born Michelin star chef with rarefied Relais & Châteaux chevrons, is in the kitchen, hitting the mark a little better every day. (He’s getting the message—these are customers who let you know when they’re unhappy.) “This is just a sample of what the menu will be,” says Sirio’s son Mauro. (He’s the tall, lanky one who moves as if he doesn’t have a bone in his body.) Brother Marco bounces along, greeting old friends. “Was it too salty the first time you tasted it? Let me bring you the gnocchetti with squid anyway.” (Marco is the cute middle son with cherub curls and a tendency to talk too much. And indiscreetly. Of course, that’s fun, too.)
He’s right, tonight the gnocchetti are good. The pappardelle with meat ragout might even benefit from a little hit of seasoning. But no problem. You’ll see salt and pepper on the table, an unusual gesture in this era where the chef is God. Here the customer is always right. The “carbonara” with seafood is called carbonara only because it’s white—there’s no bacon, no egg, no dairy. I ask if the kitchen will serve lunchtime’s real carbonara tonight. It’s much better (though it ought to be richer). And what’s this? I’ve been charged $32 on the bill by error, the price of the seafood dish.
Chef Gozzoli’s Milanese hotel grandeur shows in the puff pastry-wrapped eggplant parmigiana, napped with tomato sauce. Suspiciously fancy, it’s surprisingly good. As is the beef carpaccio with shards of Parmesan, halves of hard-boiled quail eggs, baby bok choy, lemongrass and black truffle, too. Both are better antipasti than the lackluster butternut squash soup and the cod three ways—braised, fried and confit in a canning jar—a clever $24 concept, except that all three elements should be equally good.
Brick-pressed Cornish game hen could not be more perfectly cooked. Well, maybe the skin could be crispier. I’d choose it again, anyway, if I could resist the lush and fatty veal cheeks with polenta and a mysterious touch of cocoa.
With entrées priced from $29 to $59, the $12 desserts are especially tempting. Try the poached pear with cardamom gelato, the chestnut mousse with Brazilian chocolate and the espresso semifreddo with guanaja fudge and mascarpone sorbet. We need to have at least one for the table.
I decide to wait for my pals at the bar that first Friday, after revisiting the history of Maccioni in the photos and drawings on the wall behind me—Sirio as the grand marshal of the boldface menagerie at Le Cirque, Sirio as the soigné maître d’ at Colony Club. “The Pierre has sure changed since I used to come here for debutante balls,” observes a slightly disheveled guy next to me, sipping coffee. I look around. There are some well-preserved faces from early Le Cirque glory among the few early birds. The place isn’t even officially open, but by 9:30pm, good-looking Upper East Siders in blue jeans and sweaters fill the house. It’s a crowd you’ll find wherever there’s buzz. First in, first out. But give them a reason to come back.
The place sparkles from its Tihany tune-up. Of course, Le Caprice was gorgeous, too. “But they just didn’t know New York,” says the bartender. “They offended everyone. I love these boys. These Maccionis are nice to everybody.” He can feel the difference because, as he confides, “We’re the leftovers. We come with the place. We’re the union.” The union. I notice that the sound system is playing that tune: No, no, they can’t take that away from me.
Latapie says he’s been hired as executive director of management for all Maccioni properties. He’ll be here till Sirio sends him somewhere else. He and the family just need to know their Almanach de Gotham, so to speak. For the entitled affluent of this ZIP code, not being recognized is a worse sin than too small a portion of rigatoni. Or a thrill-less halibut. They remember when they were young and Sirio was golden. It’s almost poetic that Sirio was maître d’ at La Forêt at The Pierre before he opened Le Cirque. “La Foray,” the hotel website spells it.
But the locals are always complaining they have nowhere to eat. So Sirio’s kitchen only has to be pretty good. “There’s no way it can’t be better than Cipriani down the street,” says an out-of-town friend who’s already eaten here five times. The serving crew needs some training, too. “They don’t know how to open a bottle of wine,” a fussy luncher complains. Our busboy pours bottled Panna on top of our tap water and a $10 charge appears on the bill. My chum asks for a not-too-heavy red to follow her $11 Barbera d’Asti, and the waiter slips her a full-bodied Barolo, $30 a glass.
I happily sip my Sirio Sour. “Isn’t that a perfect name,” says son Marco with a wicked grin. Suddenly the waiter takes my drink away and replaces it with another. “What’s going on?” I ask.
“That one was accidently shaken,” he explains. “It’s supposed to be layered, like this.” I’m tipsy enough already that I forget to be annoyed.