Note: Sirio closed in February 2015. A French–American restaurant called Perrine replaced it.
The patriarch, Sirio Maccioni, was once the top maitre d’ in the city. He still holds court at the mother ship, but day-to-day management of the company is now in the hands of his three sons.
There is some evidence that the empire is not what it used to be: last year, Pete Wells knocked Le Cirque all the way down from three stars to one, whereupon they fired the chef. He has not yet been replaced, to my knowledge; his name still appears on the website.
Still, in multiple visits to Le Cirque and Circo, particularly the former, I’ve found that they can certainly dazzle you on occasion. (This would be the case, even if you discount a comped visit to Le Cirque last year at the restaurant’s invitation.) We were dazzled again at Sirio last week. As far as I can tell, we weren’t recognized. None of Sirio’s sons, nor the maitre d’, visited our table; nothing was comped. The food was simply superb.
Our experience does not square with either Adam Platt of New York, nor Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post, both who gave it just one star. Even Gael Greene, who is recognized everywhere she goes, filed a negative review.
Most of the critics—Platt in particular—are predictably hostile to restaurants that cater to the affluent, as an Upper East Side restaurant in The Pierre hotel, facing Central Park, is inevitably expected to do. To criticize the mission is absurd. Review it on its own terms, or don’t go. Nevertheless, the conclusion on reading those reviews is that you can have a bad meal here. We had an excellent one.
The city would be a poorer place without restaurants like Sirio. How nice is it to walk into a beautiful dining room, be served by a professional staff, sit in comfortable chairs, order from a wine list with real depth, and carry on a conversation in a normal speaking voice? Even if they served nothing but twinkies, there’d be value in that. Yes, it’s expensive—unavoidable in this location. You don’t have to go every day.
This is the space formerly occupied by Le Caprice, which flopped a year ago after a short stint. It too was panned by nearly everyone. The guts of the long, narrow space have the same layout as before. The Maccionis’ favorite designer, Adam Tihany, has given the dining room a colorful upgrade. There are no tablecloths, the restaurant’s lone concession to fashion.
The menu, I understand, has scaled back some of the opening prices. Still, you can spend a lot here. Antipasti are $14–36 (average about $20), primi $24–33, secondi $28–59 (most in the $30s), contorni $9.
Bread service (above left) was the lone disappointment: by the time we arrived for our late meal, most of the bread was stale.
Carpaccio di Manzo ($21; above right) was a wonderful starter: thinly sliced beef, quail eggs, baby bok choy, lemongrass, and shaved truffles. I wondered if the truffles could possibly be real at this price, but they certainly seemed to be.
Sea bass ($36; above left) came with delicious potato and artichoke chips, with a luscious caper cream sauce (above right).
Salmon ($34; above left) belied the myth that restaurant salmon has to be boring. Roasted with Brussels sprouts and served with a caviar sauce, it was rich and deeply satisfying.
The wine list went on for many pages and had the usual trophy wines you’d expect at such an establishment, but a 2003 Loire valley white at the back of the volume (photo of the label at the top of this post), at just $55, was magical, with a deep, musky, mature flavor that wowed us immediately.
Service was polished and correct. I would not call it elegant: by the standards of the neighborhood, it’s upscale but not luxuriious. Downtown, it would be impossible. Our reservation was at 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening. It was not full at that hour, but there were a couple of parties that arrived after us.
My isolated voice probably won’t persuade very many people that Sirio is wonderful. Platt, Cuozzo, et al, have much larger megaphones than we. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Sirio Ristorante (795 Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, Pierre Hotel, Upper East Side)
Food: Modern Italian with French technique
Service: Upscale but not luxurious
Ambiance: A comfortable dining room in a five-star hotel
Why? Sirio won’t be for everyone, but it fulfills its mission almost perfectly