The evolution of haute NYC dining can be seen on Le Cirque’s menu, even with a new chef in the kitchen. Belgian-born and French-bred Raphael Francois joined the restaurant as executive chef in spring 2014 after garnering experience in the most honored kitchens in Europe, including the multi-Michelin restaurants Hélène Darroze in Paris and London. While Francois brings additions such as diver scallops with beet, dolce forte and Parmesan foam ($39) to Le Cirque, he also respects the chefs who stood in its kitchen before him, greats such as Alain Sailhac, Daniel Boulud and David Bouley. On the current menu, dishes denoted with an asterisk, such as paupiette of black bass ($48) and Dover sole ($74), are the tried-and-true classics mastered by these giants.
Another classic that Francois keeps while adding his own fingerprint is the wild Burgundy escargots ($29) with Gruyere gnocchi and bottarga. Francois says he admires previous chef Craig Hopson’s “union of French and Italian ingredients, pairing the earthy escargots with the pillowy Gruyere gnocchi and adding Sardinian bottarga for more umami and depth of flavor.” Francois uses the same recipe, yet changes the presentation from a vertical plating to a “flatter, more horizontal approach.” Any way you plate it, it’s a winner, with a buttery, herbaceous parsley sauce draping the tender snails alongside the light, cheesy gnocchi with the salty bottarga enhancing it all. A garnish of arugula brings a slight peppery undertone.
Opened in 1974, Le Cirque recently celebrated its 40th birthday. Earlier this month, renowned owner Sirio Maccioni was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the James Beard Foundation for his contribution to New York’s dining scene. At Le Cirque, Maccioni’s storied hospitality, along with those classic dishes, is also always on the menu.