January 14, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

Chasing the Ghost of Sirio

 

Brick-pressed chicken doesn’t seem pressed at all to me and where is the dark meat?
Brick-pressed chicken doesn’t seem pressed at all to me and where is the dark meat?

 

          But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Sirio is now the sons.

 

          Sirio Sour is a fabulous cocktail at Sirio Ristorante, in a narrow sliver at the Pierre Hotel where Caprice, imported from London, never quite figured it out. And that Sour ought to be fabulous since it lists at $16.

 

 
This layered Sirio Sour is impressive. There’s a Grumpy Conquistador too.

 

          Architect Adam Tihany’s spruce up is nice enough. And as my guest, a Sirio fan since his golden days at The Colony observes, “The food is better than I expected.”  Tonight’s crowd, a mix of the neighborhood and well-heeled hotel guests, is definitely not shabby. But there’s no energy. No passion.  What’s missing is Sirio.

 

 
Seared sea scallops come with cauliflower cream and black truffle now.

 

          The patriarch posed in taffeta at the grand opening. That first week he limped through the narrow aisle, ranting that his Taj partners at The Pierre Hotel forced him to open too soon. “We’re not ready,” he raged when he spied a familiar face in the upper-crust lunch crowd. But Sandy had created a deluge of affluent hungry, turning midtown into the new downtown. The zip code had to be fed.  

 

 
I’m amazed to report that I actually liked this tricked up beef carpaccio.

 

          I came early too and found François Latapie at the door. As a veteran of La Goulue, he was expected to recognize who needed fawning recognition. He seemed to be making the best of losing his smart-looking Lyon in the Village, playing up his role as a roving trouble-shooter for the Maccioni feeding empire.

 

 
A friendly bartender confides that he’s a union hangover from the hapless Caprice.

 

          The bartender was refreshingly indiscreet and happy. “These Maccionis are nice to everybody,” he told me. Not so the Caprice team. “They just didn’t know New York,” says the bartender.  “They offended everyone. I love these boys.” He could feel the difference, because, as he confided, “We’re the leftovers. We come with the place. We’re the union.”

 


Mauro Maccioni is the tall, lanky, youngest who walks as if he hasn’t a bone in his body.

 

 

          A smart, late night crowd that always follows the buzz streamed in and everyone agreed, that given the yearnings of the neighborhood, the kitchen at Sirio need only to be better than nearby Cipriani.

 

 
Chef Filippo Gozzoli shows his Michelin credentials in this fancy eggplant parmigiana.

 

          That seemed no problem at all, given the lush, classic carbonara, the rich and fatty veal cheeks and the unexpected pleasure of the pastry-wrapped eggplant parmigiana. A purist might scorn beef carpaccio with shards of parmesan, hard-boiled quail egg halves, baby bok choy, lemongrass and black truffle too. But there it was and, no denying, mighty fine.

 

 
My first taste of veal cheeks looked like this with dark chocolate powder on the plate.

 

          For some early responders $100 or more per person for dinner might be an ouch. But realistically, after all, this is Bulgari country.

 

 
Two months after opening, the Friday night crowd seemed uncommonly subdued.

 

          By last week when I returned, two months later, I wondered if the self-satisfied late-nighters from those opening days had moved on to the Arlington Club or were just exhausted from the holidays. I missed the floor show, the narcissistic preening for attention. I think I even missed Sirio endlessly complaining.

 

 
Bits of guanciale and added parmesan make for a lush and salty spaghetti carbonara.

 

          On second glance the tuneup by Tihany, the Maccioni’s designated architect, with its winning wall of Sirio memorabilia opposite the bar, noise-dimming carpet and unremarkable photographs by Tihany’s son, seemed overly beige after the spiffy black and white glamour of Caprice.

 

 
This wonderful Tuscan bean soup with crouton crunch could be supper after the movie.

 

          Studying the winter menu, I saw that the house had responded to cries of discontent.  A few prices were lower. Pasta portions were heftier. A coven of size zero matrons could easily make a dinner dividing the hefty dole of carbonara.  Dosed with fresh grated parmigiana, it was silken and salty.  (I’d like to assume portions were not increased to disarm this critic.)

 

 
Gorgonzola and bacon salt these wonderful chopped greens with more croutons.

 

          Tuscan vegetable soup with its savory porridge of lentils, chickpeas, cannellini beans and a crunch of croutons was a warming supper. Three of us shared the misticaza – a toss of chopped radicchio, red endive, and romaine, dotted with bits of toast, salted with gorgonzola and bacon bites.

 

 
Here’s the latest version of cod, two ways. Neither way is particularly appealing.

 

          Cod two ways: A chunk sautéed and then dropped into a slush of whipped cod was pitiful given memories of an irresistible cod fritter at Il Buco Alimentari and the mayonnaisey mantecato you find everywhere in Venice. We left the dish uneaten. Did anyone ask why?  No. And the bread basket with parmesan crisps looked impressive till you bit into the stale rolls.

 

 
My fussy companion loves the risotto with butternut squash and sweet cookie crumbs.

 

          My fussy companion loved her properly soupy butternut squash risotto with pine nuts and more gorgonzola, but amaretto cookie crumbs made it too sweet for me.  I also found the bell peppers draped over and under the allegedly-brick-pressed Cornish hen oddly sweet too, as if sugared or deglazed in sweet wine. I say allegedly because the brick seemed to have missed the bird totally. And where was the dark meat? 

 

          Again, a luckier choice was braised veal cheeks – just $29 among entrees priced mostly from $32 to $59. The fatty cut sat irresistibly in a swamp of white polenta with unsweetened cocoa powder dusting the plate.

 

 
Middle son Marco has been charming la bourgeoisie at Le Cirque since he was 15.

 

          There was a nice déjà vu for Le Cirque loyalists when Marco Maccioni arrived with cries of delight and respectful air kisses.  Marco is the cute middle one with tousled curls who usually talks too much. But tonight he was very winning with his unabashed joy in fatherhood after 40, confessing how he rushed home between lunch and dinner every day to be with his son.

 

 
Pastry chef Janevha Greeg shows off style in this cardamom poached pear.

 

           Adding up all the parts -- the unctuous staff buttering us up, the luscious $79 nebbiolo langhe I ordered thinking it was $40, the mostly-better-than-merely-decent food – I must say the three of us enjoyed our evening at Sirio. The sons had dreamed of a casual canteen against their father’s old world vision.  Here it was. 

 

          Just one bite of the pistachio tartufo, in its chocolate dome coating with a wiggle of gold leaf, the single dessert my disciplined pals let me order, was a perfect finale. Still, the new reality shook me. I’d never been in a Maccioni place where I ordered one dessert and five more didn’t appear. Perhaps that’s okay. This could be the new austerity.

 

 
The chocolate-coated pistachio tartufo is perfect for three disciplined dames to share.

 

          Then with the check, a small dish of sweet goodies arrived: One truffle, one iced cookie, three little slices of biscotti. One truffle for three old friends of the house? That wrote the headline. Sirio’s soul is definitely not in charge at Sirio Ristorante.

 

795 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 61st Street. 212 940 8195. Breakfast daily 7 to 10:30 am. Lunch Monday through Saturday noon to 3 pm. Sunday 11:30 to 4 pm. Dinner daily 5:30 to 11:30 pm.

 

Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

 

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