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Le Cirque, Part Trois

The best entrées at the new Le Cirque tend to be the safe and stolid ones as well, the dependable kind of big-ticket items favored by elderly plutocrats with settled tastes and fat pocketbooks. The sole meunière is done just the way my grandmother used to like it. The Muscovy duck is crisp-skinned, tender, and nicely glazed with honey, and for roughly half the price, you can get an excellent helping of tripe à la armagnac stewed in tomatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. The banker gentleman at our table gave two thumbs up to the rack of lamb, which is crisped with bread crumbs and decked with tasty little boats of eggplant. The veal is good (it’s scattered with nickels of bone marrow), and so is the prime steak (but be prepared to shell out $48 for a taste of it). If you want something a little more edgy, order the Florida snapper, which is sweetened with lemon confit and green-tomato chutney, and crusted with a thin membrane of herbs. The best of the generally excellent desserts—cool bowls of stewed Provençal figs and red wine poured over almond cake and fig ice cream, and a chocolate parfait made with cocaine-quality Caribbean chocolate spiced with salty caramel—are also inventive.

But in the end, edginess is not what the new Le Cirque is all about. During the course of his long career, Maccioni has employed his share of diva chefs and engaged in all sorts of culinary innovations. But he seems content now to take a kind of victory lap, to serve the food he himself enjoys, to mingle among the tables with his friends. This approach may find a new audience, but for now the old one is out in force. On the evenings I was there, the room was filled with ruddy-cheeked titans of industry (Sandy Weill, Teddy Forstmann), high-society raconteurs (Dominick Dunne), and assorted other ageless creatures of the New York social scene. They celebrate each other’s birthdays with cakes brought to the table under domes of spun sugar and toast each other with endless flutes of champagne. “It’s the oldest kind of restaurant in the book,” said Uncle Frank, as we watched Maccioni circulating around the room, dispensing his papal greetings, grinning his timeless platinum grin. “It’s a family joint.”

Le Cirque
Address: 151 E. 58th St., at Lexington Ave.; 212-644-0202
Hours:Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 10:30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $15 to $39. Entrées, $28 to $48.
Ideal Meal: Pig’s feet, lamb shoulder, chocolate parfait.
Note: Dinner is the time to dine here; the sun flattens the room at lunch, rendering the clientele in an unforgiving light.

Le Cirque 2000 wasn’t an exceptional restaurant when it closed, and this isn’t an exceptional restaurant either. But Sirio Maccioni is one of the city’s originals, and if you’ve never experienced the theater of Le Cirque, it might be worth a trip.