Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NYC Winter Restaurant Week 2010: Le Cirque

In the six years I have lived in New York City, I have dabbled in a vast myriad of cuisines at probably hundreds of the city's dining establishments and food vendors.  But believe it or not, I have never participated in the phenomenon known as Restaurant Week.  And that's simply absurd.

During Restaurant Week, a large selection of restaurants offer prix fixe menus featuring samplings of the chef's offerings.  While you can still order from the full menu selection, you can enjoy a 3-course meal for $24.07 at lunch, or $35 at dinner. (Click here for a list of participating restaurants, or to book a reservation.)

So when the e-mail arrived in my inbox last month notifying me of this winter's options, I decided to book reservations immediately.  I chose some of my "dream" restaurants that would ordinarily cost an arm and a leg, knowing I could enjoy a full meal at a fraction of the cost.  Over the next few weeks, I will share my experiences here on Amuse*Bouche.  I'm like a kid at Christmas... and simply can't wait for the deliciousness that awaits this week.

I booked 5 reservations for a party of two in advance, and then found friends to join me on each occasion.  I figured if I waited for friends to confirm availability, my first choice restaurants would book up.  So I booked without any dining companions, and am using these meals to spend one-on-one time with people with whom I rarely get that treat...

First stop... Le Cirque...

Upon entering, we were greeted immediately by a sincerely cordial staff that proved to personify hospitality.  But soon thereafter, my attention was drawn immediately to the wine tower pictured above at the far end of the bar.

That's a 30-foot climate-controlled steel and glass wine tower, housing around 2,000 bottles of red wine. A glass room across the way houses the white wine.  Le Cirque boasts a selection ranging from $28 to $12,000 (a 1900 Chateau d'Yquem), so exhibit caution before requesting "a bottle of the finest..."

The architecture and decor were simply stunning, all designed under the muse of a circus.  From monkeys on the dishes to a ceiling reminiscent of a circus tent, it is a breathtaking restaurant.

But the food... wow.  I furrowed my brow a bit when I saw that jackets are required, but after finishing my meal, I certainly understand how the cuisine, the chef, and the whole experience demand respect.

Sauteed Maine shellfish with a red pepper-yuzu foam... sinfully buttery, perfectly tender seafood on a bed of fregola Sarda (Italian couscous, created by rolling semolina with water, then toasting them.)  I had never before tried Yuzu, a Japanese citrus... but it wove harmoniously with the red pepper to make one of the tastiest appetizers I can recall in recent history.

Venison and pistachio sausage with celery root and pickled cherries...

Diver sea scallops with butternut squash puree, broccolini, and bacon jus...

Salmon filet confit with sumac crust, jicama, and a citrus broth...

And of course, creme brulee, and chocolate hazelnut milles feuilles...

Needless to say, it was an exquisite way to kick-off my week of exploration!  To visit the website, click on the dining room below...

Le Cirque on Urbanspoon

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