Sirio Ristorante Becomes an Instant Classic
by gary walther
There are a lot of ways to view the sprouting of Sirio Ristorante in The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, in a space formerly occupied by Le Caprice. It tells you that some things don’t travel well, among them the Mayfair clubbiness that Le Caprice exemplifies, and it reminds you that in this town, Italian savoir faire trumps British when it comes to restaurants. (Magazine editors, different story.)
It’s also a trendlet: For the past two decades, restaurants here have gone to Nevada to hit the jackpot, but this is the first for a restaurant of this caliber that started in Las Vegas—Sirio Ristorante is at the Aria Resort & Casino—to move to New York. (Some things don’t stay in Vegas after all.)
It’s also a homecoming. From 1972 to 1974, when he opened Le Cirque in the Mayfair hotel, Sirio Maccioni managed La Forêt, the supper club and lounge that occupied this spot. Maccioni still speaks fondly of it, recalling Peter Duchin’s orchestra and the fact that the Duchess of Windsor once asked him to dance.
And it’s a reminder that Conrad Hilton’s dictum, “location, location, and location,” still holds. “The address of The Pierre is The Pierre,” says Maccioni, explaining why this spot appealed to him, given that he’d once been offered the Apple Store location two blocks south and declined. “New Yorkers don’t go underground except to take the subway,” he said at the time. “And my clients don’t take the subway.”
But in the end, there’s only this: Sirio Maccioni, at 80, is still the Zeus of the New York restaurant world. Who else could open a pavé-diamond- casual Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side and draw 1,000 people to the opening? Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly cut short an appearance at Barclays Center—announcing the Islanders’ move there, no less—to be at the debut. Among Manhattan’s Big Dipper constellation that showed up were Martha Stewart, Richard Meier, Tony Bennett, Raymond Kelly, Kyle DeWoody, Nobu maestro Richie Notar, and former Canadian Ambassador Kenneth Taylor, who in 1979 and 1980 hid six American hostages for months before helping them escape from Iran and is portrayed by Victor Garber in the hit film Argo.
Since then, Sirio has been a gusher of New York Post sightings. On the week after Hurricane Sandy, Ronald Perelman, Ivanka Trump, Aryeh Bourkoff, Pierre Bergé, and designer Dennis Basso came for lunch; Nine West cofounder Jerome Fisher, Judy and Jerry Della Femina, Yaz and Valentin Hernandez, Florence and Richard Fabricant, and Daniel Boulud turned up at dinner. We shouldn’t be surprised: After all, Sirio told Vanity Fair’s Bob Colacello that when he was maître d’ at the Colony, Jackie Kennedy was the only woman in New York who had his home number.
Sirio Ristorante however is not meant to be a glamour-puss. It is supposed to slide nicely between the Maccioni circuses—the haute French Le Cirque in the Bloomberg Tower and the trattoria Circo over on the West Side. It’s meant to be a neighborhood joint in a neighborhood where, as Marco Maccioni, who with his brother, Mauro, manages Sirio, “everyone is somebody.” Which is true: One night, as I was sitting at the bar, Barbara Walters came through the revolving door, broke through the scrimmage line at the maître d’s podium like a Heisman Trophy running back, and went for daylight down the allée that divides the space in half, heading for the glamour seats at the back of the room. (“People love table 43 in the back corner,” says Mauro, “even though it’s next to the service entrance.”) The manager sprinted down the room after her so that she wouldn’t arrive at the table unattended.
There’s a simple calculus to the dining room: a line of banquette deuces opposite the mirrored bar and convivial four-and-up seating at the back of the room. I have to confess that throughout dinner, I kept looking toward the back half of the room thinking that’s where the party is. Among the banquettes, numbers one and 10 are primo because they’re in the corners, with one being the most private and 10 giving you a view of the incoming parade.
According to Marco Maccioni, the intent is to make the long, narrow room a kind of club. To get that feel, the Maccionis turned to their design consigliere, Adam D. Tihany, who has worked for Sirio since meeting him at Le Cirque years ago. “I was a struggling artist at the time,” Tihany recalls. “I think he thought I was Italian.”
The food at Sirio is a bit hard to pigeonhole. Marco and Mauro speak of it as “authentic Italian food,” the sort of dishes they like to eat when they’re in Italy. But then, lots of crosswinds come into play on Michelin-starred chef Filipo Gozzoli’s menu. The lunch menu offers a “Tuscan cheeseburger”; Mauro admits, “I don’t know why it’s Tuscan,” but the Maccionis felt that you have to give people what they want. “You can fight them a little bit,” says Marco and then places his hands palms-up in a gesture of surrender.
There’s also a nod to the restaurant’s calorie-conscious clientele, which is why, along with the standard Spaghetti Carbonara, there’s Spaghetti Grezzo alla Finta “Carbonara” di Mare. In Italian, finta means pretend, and this one is indeed an impersonator, with the cream replaced by emulsified olive oil. The Romans at the adjacent table pronounced the real carbonara “okay” and the finta “very good.” The favorite dish of Tihany (and many other guests, according to the Maccionis) is La Parmigiana di Melanzane, the stalwart eggplant Parmesan, but done in a puff pastry, a bit of a French touch. My favorite is also a stalwart, the Insalata di Mare, teeming with seafood, because it lived up to Marco’s incisive description of the Italian culinary approach—“not messing with the ingredients.” The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, 795 Fifth Ave., 212-940-8195
Photography by evan sung