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The Greatest Restaurant in New York: Le Cirque 2000

Fantasy, fun, and fabulous food are on parade under the big top at Le Cirque 2000 where the Gilded Age meets the 21st century. Ensconced since 1997 in one of the Villard mansions that form the base of midtown Manhattan's Palace Hotel, Le Cirque 2000 is as much a feast for the eye as it is a treat for the palate.

Entering the restaurant from the spacious courtyard that fronts Madison Avenue, one experiences the giddy excitement of a three ring circus. The backdrop is Neo-Italian Renaissance with ornately carved marble walls and fireplaces, Baccarat crystal chandeliers, and rich wood paneling. But up front is a riot of fantastic design as boldly colored swaths of silken drapery hang tent-like from vaulted ceilings while carpets of overlapping circles suggesting the play of spotlights in circus rings lead one from level to level and space to surprising space. Lighting fixtures of stainless steel and parabolic neon tubing are suspended in air as if waiting for the next high wire act, giant torcheres in primary hues illuminate pre-Raphaelite murals, and the free-floating overhead clock and free-standing panels of frosted aqua glass before marble pillars add a touch of whimsy to an otherwise stately and staid 19th century setting.

The over-the-top vision is the creation of renowned Israeli-born architect and designer Adam Tihany who turned Landmark Commission restrictions that prevented alterations to existing space and attachments to existing walls into a challenge for imaginative possibilities. All installations and furnishings are mobile. Like any circus, Le Cirque 2000 can pack its tents and move out of town leaving not a trace behind.

But this is one circus that has come to town with no intention of moving on. And there in the center ring is the Barnum of restaurateurs: Sirio Maccioni. It was three years ago that the charismatic, Tuscany-born Maccioni moved his legendary emporium of haute cuisine from the Mayfair Hotel on 65th Street downtown. The possibility of more space in an extraordinary setting was tempting, and besides, the new owners of the Palace Hotel had made him an offer he couldn't refuse. In his new location, Maccioni continues to offer the exceptional cuisine and attentive service one finds in the legendary restaurants of France but within an American ethos. "Some restaurants give you a sense that you're lucky to get a table," he says. "I hate that. If you are a true restaurateur, you cannot be pretentious."

And the table is the main attraction of Le Cirque 2000: a refined and elegant dining experience that is playful as well. Food arrives on dishes that depict cavorting cigar-smoking lions and circus balls, presented by a staff that is attentive and consistently good humored. The French-Italian menu offers more than 40 carefully conceived and prepared dishes. Selections that made the original restaurant a legend like bolito misto, duck pot au feu, and osso buco are still staples, but new dishes including tuna slices of gossamer shades atop a plate of pasta puttanesca, seared sea scallops with wild mushrooms, and filet of halibut with a fricassee of calamari and shrimp are there as well -- creations of the Cambodian born executive chef Sottha Khunn who has been at le Cirque for more than a decade. "If I could have one meal before I die, I would want chef Sottha Khunn to cook it, " Maccioni says.

Pastry chef Patrice Coillot presides over the staggering array of Le Cirque 2000 deserts. His specialties include chocolate mousse with caramelized bananas and vanilla ice cream pineapple parfait, and almond Bavarian cream with apple confit. But his last and lasting impression comes from the sampling of exquisite, not to mention scrumptious, miniature tarts and chocolates that conclude every meal.

And then there is the wine: over 700 varieties and 60,000 bottles focusing on classic French, emerging American and eclectic Italian but highlighting specific selections which have ranged from chateau d'Yquem 1900 to Chateau Latour 1949 to Sassicaia 1985 to Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon 1991.

From the stately grill room decorated in red and yellow, to the main dining room of purple high back chairs backed with outsized clown buttons and golden drapes, to the cocktail lounge whose furnishings suggest Alexander Calder mobiles that landed on earth, Le Cirque 2000 is a three ring circus of constant delight.

Le Cirque 2000/ Cuisine French/Italian
New York Palace Hotel
455 Madison Avenue
at 50th Street
New York, NY  10022

Phone: 212-303-7788

  • Monday - Saturday
    • Lunch
      • 11:45 am - 2:30 PM
    • Dinner
      • 5:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.
  • Sunday
    • Dinner
      • 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Dining room seating capacity 150; Courtyard seating capacity 100.   Owners Sirio, Mario, Marco, and Mauro Maccioni.

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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