LE CIRQUE: Then and Now

If two restaurants can be said to have jump-started our food revolution, Spago and Le Cirque must be given the credit. Spago got the ball rolling in December, 1992, but it was Le Cirque’s arrival on October 15, 1998 that caused a seismic shift in our taste tectonics. Steve Wynn wanted to make a big splash with his restaurant line-up at the Bellagio, and as good as the rest of his eateries were (Picasso, Prime, Olives, et al), he knew he needed a big hitter from the Big Apple to really get the food world’s attention. Enter Sirio Maccioni and family, bringing with them what was, at the time, the most famous name in American restaurants.

Those early years were exciting times. Las Vegas had never seen a jewel box like Adam Tihany’s 60-seat design, nor witnessed food so fine or service so precise. With the Maccionis patrolling the room and paterfamilias Sirio making constant appearances from his throne in New York, Las Vegas was a satellite operation, but one every bit the equal of its hallowed namesake. A succession of great chefs (beginning with Marc Poidevin) has kept this kitchen firing on all cylinders since day one, and one of the best service staffs in the business keeps the dining room humming like a long-running musical where everyone still belts out showstoppers after years of hitting their marks.

Showstopping has always been what Le Cirque has always been about, but I was afraid that show might come to an end in 2013 when the management deal with the family ended. With Sirio getting older (he’s deep into his eighties now) and son Mario gone, there is no longer a strong whiff of Italian buon gusto to go along with Le Cirque’s inimitable savoir faire. No one is showing me the contracts, but these days the operation is a licensing rather than a management deal — more Bellagio, less Maccioni. The good news is the food hasn’t suffered for it. Nor has the service.

Credit for that crackerjack service goes to a team that has barely changed in nineteen years. To put that in perspective: if you came here back when Bill Clinton was President, and returned today, you would see all the same faces serving you. Frederic Montandon still pours vintages (French, please! California, if you insist) with a twinkle in his eye, while Ivo Angelov manages with the touch of an orchestra conductor. A lot of restaurants start feeling stale after two decades. Here, phoning it in isn’t in their vocabulary.

The food has changed over time, but never wavered. Some of the chefs (Poidevin, David Werly) were superstars in their own right, while others were just putting in their time. But whoever was at the helm, the kitchen has always been solid — rendering classics like rack of lamb with glazed sweetbreads and rabbit with mustard cream sauce with the same aplomb it devotes to gold-crusted quail stuffed with foie gras, or blue crab under a robe of caviar. You can still get a lobster salad here that is almost note-for-note what Daniel Boulud invented in 1988, or have your taste buds startled by current wunderkind Wil Bergerhausen’s “hidden” spring garden of English peas, tendrils and garbanzos misted with strawberries.

What used to be dueling menus of Le Cirque classics versus more modern (read: lighter) fare has expanded under Bergerhausen into four offerings at all price ranges. You can do everything from a $108, pre-theater affair to a $350 extravaganza that steps into the ring with whatever punches Savoy, Gagnaire, or Robuchon are throwing and doesn’t flinch. There’s even a delicious-sounding five course vegetarian menu offered ($115) that looks like a good idea, in the same way that yoga classes, wheat grass and prostate exams do.

Now that we’ve rebounded from the Great Recession, every night seems like New Year’s Eve here. High rollers, celebrities and hedonic jet-setters treat this place like a private club, making a reservation a tough-to-impossible on weekends. Personally, I like to go early in mid-week, grab and seat at the bar, and watch the choreography unfold before me. After almost two decades, the balletic grace of Le Cirque is still something to behold.

LE CIRQUE

Bellagio Hotel and Casino

702.693.8100

https://www.bellagio.com/en/restaurants/le-cirque.html

 

 

Cruise Ship Italian Comes to Vegas


(ELV always enjoys looking at Tinkertoys when he dines)

Italian Food and Julian Serrano Deserve a Better Decor

Julian Serrano may not be a Las Vegas native, but after seventeen years here, we pretty much claim him as our own, since he is, by far, our best and most successful local chef. His Picasso continues to dazzle as much as it did on opening night in 1998, and his namesake restaurant – Julian Serrano in the Aria Hotel – brings forth the flavors of his homeland, and shows his range as a chef and restaurateur. It certainly qualifies as one of the best Spanish restaurants in America, and can go toe to toe with Jaleo down the street for the best traditional or modern tapas in town. Serrano – unlike many lesser chefs and most famous ones – is a constant presence in both restaurants, and he toggles between them every night they’re open, checking on the kitchen and guests without breaking a sweat.

With the opening of Lago by Julian Serrano, the crafty Spaniard has decided to leave Spanish and high-toned French-Mediterranean cooking behind to bring forth….wait for it…. Italian tapas! Not the cicchetti of Venice or the antipasti of a typical Italian meal, but rather, a best hits menu of new and old Italian, done family-style, in a modernist, cutting-edge setting, that tries simultaneously to please the purists and appeal to the party-as-a-verb crowd.

Continue reading “Cruise Ship Italian Comes to Vegas”