Monday, January 31, 2011

Le Cirque Restaurant Week Review

Le Cirque is one of those New York City restaurants you might consider an institution. It's been around for a few decades, though it has occupied several different locations in that time. The place is a very high-end French spot tucked away in an alcove between 58th and 59th Streets. The prices make it a prime example of a place worth trying for Restaurant Week when you can get a three-course dinner for $35, cheaper than the price of a single entree, most of which fall in the mid-$40 to mid-$50 range.

My understanding when I made my reservation was that we would be eating in the dining room. When my dining companions arrived, the host made a round through the dining room, then led us to the cafe area behind the bar. We were seated at a table directly in front of a live jazz band. It was so noisy we couldn't hear each other talk. We felt slighted; we were having our own Ruth Reichl "unknown diner" experience. We should have spoken up. I regret not doing so, but at the time, it was already late in the evening and a severe snowstorm was raging outside, so we were eager to get through our meal.

The online Restaurant Week menu had listed several options for each course but it did not make note of a $5 supplement for some of them as the menu we received at the restaurant did.

The bread basket was filled with delicious rolls, cranberry walnut slices and olive bread.

I was excited to try the grilled escargot and bacon brochette with lentils, red pepper and ginger. Unfortunately, this mostly flat — the escargot weren't sweet and in fact were quite bland and the pieces of bacon were more like squares of fat. The flavorful lentils were the redeeming factor.

The crespelle pasta with pine nuts, mascarpone and arugula was simple but decent. The creamy sauce was light and didn't leave us feeling too heavy as we approached the main courses.

I chose the duck jambonette with sweet and sour pearl onions and potato puree. This was the moment when I was actually glad I had made the decision to finally try Le Cirque. The duck was excellent — the leg was a beautiful composition of braised meat stuffed with what tasted like a liver mixture. The potato puree was buttery and delicious.

The daurade fillet with gigante beans, tarragon, yogurt and cucumber had a refreshing flavor that might seem more suited to a cold dish. But the fish was delicately cooked and tasty.

For dessert, I had the signature creme brulee, which was a large portion. I liked it, though one of my dining companions would have liked to the sugar crust to have been a bit more charred.

When you get through eating it, the recipe is printed on the bottom of the dish. A fun little surprise.

The vanilla panna cotta with blood orange gelee was good, though perhaps forgettable among all the Restaurant Week panna cotta out there.

Dinner at Le Cirque was an uphill course, ending on a better note than it started (the band retired for the evening about halfway through our meal). I can say I enjoyed the food for the most part, but the meal didn't blow me away enough to get me to return at regular prices.

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