BOOK REVIEW:

SIRIO: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque

Review by Joseph Rosenberg

Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque
by Sirio Maccioni and Peter Elliott
John Wiley and Sons, 2004

Six decades of stuffing food into me leads me to conclude there are really two types of eating places. The first, accessible to 95% of the public, are places you go to eat; the other 5% are places you go to be seen. The latter are famous for their food, their chef, or their owner-host. Getting into the joint is the main challenge to dining in these places. After one is admitted, then you are studied briefly and if you are important to the host for any number of criteria, you will be given a table and will be expected to order and act as the wait staff expects.
For the five percent for whom great food isn't the only reason to dine out, there are places like Le Cirque.
From what I gather, the Maccioni family’s Le Cirque is such a place. If you are the type of patron Sig. Maccioni finds acceptable, then you get a good table and attentive service; if not, you are probably moved along quite quickly so your table can be filled more appropriately. This is not to say that the food isn't excellent for everyone who dines at Le Cirque, as Sig. Maccioni takes great effort to hire great chefs and feature innovative cuisine.

This autobiographical book has a lot of recipes that attest to the Maccioni mastery of ingredients and presentation. These take up a good part of the book's 386 pages.

Peter Elliott has tried to distill the essence of the volatile Tuscan personality of Sirio and forgives him his excesses. Between the lines you can appreciate Maccioni’s commitment to his trade, his honesty and candor. He is the epitome of what a host should be, which is part of the Italian tradition of service and respect. A few celebrity tidbits: Frank Sinatra differed on Le Cirque's food preparation and semi-boycotted the place; and, while at the first Reagan inaugural, Maccioni, when asked, admitted to being less than an ardent supporter of the results of that election. Note that Serio never volunteered that bit of information, but when asked he was honest.

From my time peddling wine, I know how competitive restaurants can be, how factors beyond an owner’s control can affect a business, and how burned-out an owner can be. Most owners have to deal with staff, unions, providers, landlords and partners silent and otherwise. The Maccionis have succumbed to the latest trend of multiple locations, with the typical problems that come from loss of total quality control. Still, because Serio's family are not the chefs, they can be expected to manage multiple locations better than chef-run establishments that try to expand.

I must confess, having dined at some of the best places in Italy, I have no desire to eat at Le Cirque for the food. If I’m in New York, it’s a good Jewish deli or a steak house like the Palm or Peter Lugar’s for me, but I’ve always wondered how it would be at “21” or Le Cirque. I’ve daydreamed about selling them some wine or going there with my publisher.

All who’d like "the Le Cirque treatment" would appreciate reading this book. Enjoy.


Joe Rosenberg is a noted Baltimore oeniphile and bon vivant.


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This story was published on December 28, 2004.