I went to Le Cirque over the weekend, and I wanted to give a report for fellow Chowhounds. First a disclaimer - I am not a restaurant snob, and I enjoy a local hole in the wall just as much as a reputed 4-star restaurant. Although I have been to the likes of Lespinasse, Bouley, etc., I do not make this a regular practice (both for monetary reasons and because I usually prefer much simpler food and surroundings). I am providing the following report because I would have liked to have seen a similar review (from a non-professional) before eating there so I could have (a) decided whether or not to go and (b) have a guide to ordering once I got there. So here goes:
As I am sure you have read, the design is over the top. It takes a lot of getting used to, and the TV over the bar is tacky even for Le Cirque 2000. The "red room" looks like a rich grandmother's dining room. It is not as outlandish as I had expected. Actually, it is quite staid and sedate Get a table along the walls - the center tables are in the middle of the waiters' path and there is no privacy. The "purple room" is more bizarre. The high backed chairs and murals give the room a very bizarre feel. This room is more lively, and it seems as if they seat the younger crowd in there, while they place the regulars in the red room.
I am not sure if they plan on serving outdoors, but the garden at the entrace of the restaurant is absolutely gorgeous and would be a great place to sit with a drink
Even though reservations are hard to get, at least 1/4 of the tables at our 7:30 seating were empty. The buzz I had expected (and read about) was non-existent. Plus we were placed in the granny room.
The service was hot and cold. When we were told our table was available we got up from the bar, but by the time we looked around the individual who informed us of the table being ready was nowhere to be found. We sat around for about 2 minutes looking lost and confused until he re-appeared, and apologized. Once seated, it took at least 25 minutes until we received a wine list.
The head waiter, on the other hand, was a class act. He was very professional and charming. The other waiters, however, were clueless. When we asked what gave this foie gras a fruitty flavor, he began to tell us what foie gras was. When we told him that we knew about foie gras, but wondered what gave this particular foie gras such a unique flavor, he looked at us with a confused expression, and again gave us the definition of foie gras.
Out of the four appetizers and four entrees that our table ordered, we could have constructed a great meal. But there were some serious misses among our selections.
The lobster risotto, reputed to have chunks of lobster, was virtually lobster free. It lacked flavor and intensity and had way to much butter. The lobster bolognese was equally unimpressive and not worth writing about. The famed foie gras ravioli was interesting and tasty, yet my enthusiasm for the dish does not rise to the level of Ruth Reichl's.
For main courses: a good, but not great, rack of lamb. A sea bass wrapped in lettuce and showered with black truffles and chantarelle mushrooms was remarkably flavorless. It was one of the most most unsatifsying pieces of fish I have had in a long time. A black sea bass with a potato shell and a Barolo sauce was very good - you would think that the fish would be overwhelmed by the heavy ingridiants, but it stood up to them nicely. Finally, we had a sauteed scallops and shrimp dish with mixed vegetables. The scallops were perfectly seared and of the highest quality. The shrimp was a bit overcooked and rubbery and lacked flavor.
The desserts were uniformly excellent. The best creme brulee I have ever eaten and a wonderful chocolate souffle, as well as the (in)famous chocolate oven - it is amazing to look at, but a little over the top.
While it was a good meal, it was not great. And for these kind of prices, you expect greatness. Also, Sirio was not in the house, which may explain the imperfect service - although even if he was around, I am sure that he would not have had time to deal with the likes of us, mere common folk.