Ever hear of a water-cannon salute? Fire trucks lined the runway to spray our plane with water, after landing in the Dominican Republic on JetBlue’s inaugural flight from JFK to La Romana. We headed to Casa de Campo, sugar baron Pepe Fanjul’s beautiful resort. The movie Rambo 2 included scenes on the stunning Chavon River there. Sting, Carlos Santana, and Frank Sinatra are among the many celebrities who have performed at the nearby amphitheater. Cygalle Dias, an entrepreneur based in New York, launched a healing spa at the resort. The spa, replete with an outdoor labyrinth and Zen gardens, is one property of a spa company that spans both the fashion and entertainment world.
The palaces of excess lining the Strip are no slouch when it comes to excellent edibles, and they’re going all out on December 31st. Most of these hotel restaurants have two seatings, but expect to pay more for primetime.
To start the New Year off in true luxury style, the Black Truffle Prestige menu is nine courses of Restaurant Guy Savoy’s truffle-enhanced goodness, including artichoke and black truffle soup, black truffle risotto and brie black truffle. The other dinner option: a seven-course meal with caviar and roasted duck. Visitors to the Cosmopolitan can all enjoy the lobster paella and chicken fritters on the prix-fixe menus at Jaleo, but those truly in the know can book e by Jose Andres, a secret eight-seat restaurant hidden within the restaurant and serving a 25-item tasting menu of insane tapas like Iberico pork with squid and artichoke puree with vanilla.
We’ve always loved the optimism of seafood in the desert, and the options at the Wynn are stellar: a seven-course meal from James Beard Award winner Paul Bartolotta at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare features his amazingly fresh family-style Italian seafood pastas, and the Lakeside Grill highlights include features carpaccio of fluke with Spanish caviar and orange yuzu, sea scallops with black truffle. But if steak is more your speed, there are multiple options: try SW Steakhouse at for roasted squab breast and Mashima beef tenderloin.
Overall, though, we’re dying for dinner at the Bellagio, where they’re truly catering to the high-rollers (literally); the traditional six-course menu at Picasso, will have you drowning in Chef Julian Serrano’s six-course menu of oysters, foie gras, and Wagyu beef paired with selections from the 1,500-bottle wine cellar. There’s also a high-style French fete going on at their Le Cirque restaurant and surf-and-turf (read: Grade-A steaks and poached lobster) at Prime. Upscale seafood is done two ways: six courses of upgraded comfort food by Michael Mina including ahi tuna tartare and lobster pot pie, and a seven-course Omakase menu at Yellowtail that might have everything from a tuna-truffle pizza to duck prosciutto, or order dishes and sushi a la carte.
Up next, the hottest concert tickets in town to rock out as the clock strikes midnight…
Not all big restaurant successes are built to scale up, but in the case of Le Cirque, the Maccioni family’s legendary New York haunt, build up they will. And like many restaurateurs, they’ve found hotels to be a useful partner in their expansion, choosing to align their brand with properties that cater to both their current jet-setting customers. We spoke with Marco Maccioni, one of the sons of founder Sirio Maccioni, to get the scoop on where they’re headed.
Where are your current projects located?
The original Le Cirque is here in New York, established in 1974 by my father, and has had three different addresses, like 65th and Park, which is now Daniel, who took over the space from us. We moved to the Palace until 2005, and we’re now in the Bloomberg tower since 1996. Outside of New York, we opened Le Cirque at the Bellagio, which my brother manages, and as of two years now, when MGM completed City Center, we have our third Las Vegas restaurant, Sirio, named after my father. We opened in the Dominican Republic at Casa de Campo, located in La Romana on the south side. It’s a golfer’s paradise. The resort has a few F&B outlets, but we took over the two main ones—the Beach Club by Le Cirque, which is a daytime restaurant and then more elaborate in the evenings, keeping in mind that were in the Caribbean and not trying to recreate Le Cirque.
How do you decide where to expand next?
As we progress and my brothers and I get more integral to the decision-making process, we’ve been trying to establish the brand and take it from a mom-and-pop generation to a more organizational brand. Those were the first steps in that expansion. That allowed us to focus our attention on newer markets, and while we’ve had offers in the Middle East and Russia before, it wasn’t until all my brothers had established ourselves and my father was comfortable that we expanded there.
What does it take to safeguard a brand like Le Cirque when working with international partners?
We work only with friends. If we know the owners and we can count on them, we’re much more comfortable looking into these kinds of projects. The Le Cirque name, we guarantee by overseeing the operation. Our guarantee to our customers is that they’ll have a Maccioni experience whenever they’re in our restaurants. It’s the advantage of working in a family: one of us can disappear and the rest will hold down the fort at home.
My brother went out for a month to our restaurant in the Leela New Delhi in India, I’m due to go after the holidays. If we can’t walk to it, we’ll fly to it, and if we can’t fly to it, we won’t do it. We have a friendship with the Nayyar family, they’re similar to the Forbes family here in the United States. They have wonderful goodwill, a true respect for the business world and the Indian population. They’re frequent guests of ours and they know our restaurants, and we work with Kempinski, so when we had the chance to work together in India, which is a blossoming market. I think of it like Las Vegas, where we were the first big restaurant (aside from Spago)—we were the first to the gold rush. If my father does it, because he’s so cautious, then lots of people will follow.
How do those Le Cirque signature dishes translate around the world?
Where we’re located in New Delhi, it’s a governmental-political kind of neighborhood, and we get a lot of that clientele. We realized quickly that the French palate wasn’t something the Indian population liked so much, and they preferred Italian, which was not a problem for us, so we focused on the Italian preparations we’ve always offered. The pastas are the most popular by far, and they really love fish preparations. Our chef is an Italian national, born in Italy but of Indian descent, Mickey Bhoti, and he’s just perfectly in line with what we do over there—lobster risotto, not just white-sauce-red-sauce kind of cuisine. They do traditional crudo, with extra-virgin olive oil instead of wasabi, fish carpaccio, things like that.
What about the design signatures? Are they standard from restaurant to restaurant?
A lot of people say oh, we’re going to Le Cirque, so they’re looking for lions and tigers on the ceiling. My father coined the name when he was a waiter at Maxime’s in Paris. All the people pushing out of the doorway in furs and evening gowns, shoving each other to get up to the host, it was a circus in there; that’s where the name comes from. He was talking about that experience of excitement and dynamism, which is what he liked about it. We design in partnership with the venues, but Adam Tihany, who is our architect of choice, has built all our restaurants except the original in 1974, and the locations in the Dominican Republic and India, because in India they already had a design theme that was prevalent throughout the hotel. Our accents and themes were incorporated, though, and he provided drawings of our other restaurants. We try to keep a common theme, but it has to be an elegant restaurant that is flattering to the ladies, and a space that is appropriate for celebration.
How would you characterize the overall feel of the restaurant? What does it add to the hotels and cities you choose?
The energy and quality and traditions are what set us apart. I don’t mean a stodgy waiter with a greased mustache, but the standards and food traditions have stood us well in New York’s tough market, which is a unique experience to diners elsewhere. Not being a chef-driven restaurant, I believe our offering of the total experience is what we bring to the table. There are better chefs than ours, but ours are keyed into the dining experience, and our customers come back because of the atmosphere. They can entertain here, we can offer them everything food-wise, as well as the host—an order off the menu, a special request—we’ll never say no. Over four decades you get a feel for your customers, and you want them to be regulars. You have to make them feel like they’re at home—if we have it in the fridge, we’ll cook it for you. They’re elegant but also comfortable.
Geoffrey Zakarian is in for a busy summer, but he’s used to the pressure. The chef, restaurateur, author, and TV personality has been a flurry of activity in and out of the kitchen since he began his career at New York’s legendary Le Cirque in 1981. Since then, he has, among other things, been an executive chef at 44, opened the Blue Door at the Delano in Miami Beach, and owned critically acclaimed restaurants Town and Country (both now closed). In addition to his work as the executive chef of New York’s white-hot Lambs Club and as a judge on the Food Network series Chopped, he’s been preparing his latest restaurant, Miami’s Tudor House, a “gastro cafe” at the newly-opened Dream South Beach hotel.
“In keeping with the Miami theme, it’s slightly more art deco than a cafe, serving cafe food at a higher level than normal,” he says. While the French-influenced American cuisine in which he specializes has modern elements, Zakarian says he’s reaching back in history more than ever, digging into 100- and 200-year-old cookbooks for inspiration. “The more I go forward, the more I go backward,” he says. “It always leads me to simpler times.”
In the late afternoon on Friday, Superman Matt Levine came at me faster than a speeding bullet. He had a party that needed a space for a hundred people for Saturday night. They needed it to be private—a word many people don’t really understand. There aren’t a lot of places that haven’t already been completely sold out on a Saturday night; rooms with room to spare on weekends don’t last. The solution was the not-ready for prime-time roof of Hotel Chantelle, which I am readying for an opening in about 2 weeks.
Raw but serviceable, the courageous crew of Chantellers worked day and night for an event that would bring celebrities like Kid Cudi, Yankee pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain, baller Drew Gooden, actors Victor Rasuk and Luis Guzman, and Celebrity Apprentice/Playmate of the Year Hope Dwoceryczk. It was a super-secret surprise party for How To Make It In America birthday boy Bryan Greenberg.
It was an HBO crowd mugging with the usual assortment of models and hipsters that used the secret password “Crisp,” a How to Make It reference. At one point Kid Cudi needed a seat for his entourage, and unknowingly bounced a show producer from his seats. I told the producer to tax his paycheck, and got a surprising “lightbulb went off in his head” reaction to my little joke. Kid Cudi once performed at my birthday. When we asked him what he wanted for the performance, he replied with a couple of cheeseburgers. He’s a great guy, and I hope he gets paid in full. DJ Silver Medallion kept everyone on their toes. Cast, crew and friends had a good time as the room really works. The weather gods cooperated for the first time in 6 months. I can’t wait to finish it. About a zillion flowering vines trellised on ancient iron gates will complete the gig.
More important than all the cake and celebrating was the event that these folks threw at brunch earlier in the day. Le Cirque hosted this affair, which raised 60K for The Olevolos Project. This loot will build a library in Africa. Among the celebrities attending were Gina Gershon, Gabe Saporta, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Lake Bell, Margarita Leiveva as well as Kid Cudi and Luis Guzman. Club icons Danny A., Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum came to support. Matt Levine told me about the Olevolos project:
“The Olevolos Project is a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to develop young leaders in the Olevolos Village using formal schooling, tutoring programs, and extra-curricular activities. A lot of friends came together to support an amazing cause, raise awareness and money for those less fortunate in Africa. 50% of kids from the village don’t make it to 10 years old. No pretenses for yesterday’s birthday party—just good times with friends and family. Cocktails, conversations and laughs with friends (and Silver Medallion killed it with the background music), the late affair was especially gratifying because we all came together earlier in the day for the charity. I really have to thank the staff at Hotel Chantelle for coming together at the last minute, they were extremely accommodating and a pleasure to work with. All pro’s—great service.”
Matt sold his Eldridge space and just got his liquor license approved for a project he is developing in the old Mason Dixon space. He is hoping to open in September, and I’ll tell you more when it’s time to tell you all about it.
If there’s one disadvantage to working in the travel industry, it’s constantly having to leave New York City. I miss my friends, my neighborhood, and, most of all, the food. Seriously, I’ve been to places where the food has sucked (Philippines), lacked variety (Greenland), and was neither here nor there (Fort Lauderdale). New Yorkers are super-privileged to be in a city where the culinary scene is diverse and, more often than not, really damn good. Not only can you get a hearty, amazing meal at a cheap ethnic joint, you can splurge on high-end dinners knowing you won’t be disappointed. Best of all, with NYC Restaurant Week next month, you can get that “splurgy” experience at that “ethnic joint” price. Or something like that.
From January 24 to February 6, NYC & CO is partnering with more than 300 restaurants for two weeks of ridiculously priced meals at highly touted restaurants. Three-course, prix-fixe lunches will be $24.07; three-course prix-fixe dinners at a measly $35.
At the Date Night premiere: 1. Steve Carell – “Boy! You know what? On the way in, we drove by Shun Lee. My wife and I, when we lived here, we ate there all the time. John’s Pizza was one of our favorite pizza places. Any one, but, certainly, the one in the Village, and I think they opened one up off Times Square. That’s just always good.” 2. Tina Fey – “My favorite restaurant in the world is a restaurant in Chicago, called the Athenaeum Room. Favorite dish? Chicken on french fries.” 3. Taraji P. Henson – “The Little Owl. I went there the other night!” 4. Jimmi Simpson – “Providence, on Melrose, in Los Angeles. Any special dish? The five-course tasting menu.” 5. Carol Alt – “Actually, I like Pure Food and Wine because it’s a raw restaurant. What do you like there? Well, just about everything, but their ice cream is killer! Raw ice cream — unbelievable, unbelievable. I eat at a lot of Japanese places, so I can have raw fish. I’m a raw foodist, so it, kind of, limits.”
6. Common – “I love Café Habana. It’s located on Prince and Elizabeth. I’ve been, consistently, going there. It’s not anything new. I’ve been going there for, like, 10, 11 years. Cuban food; great music. You got to eat the corn. The corn is the best. I like the camarones, too — the shrimp; they’re incredible. I also enjoy a place called Stan’s, in Brooklyn. It’s like Cajun, but new food. It’s like New Orleans, but slash some other feel to it. It’s a great restaurant. I’m a restaurant guy more than a club guy. I like going to the movies different places, like, what’s the one on Houston? The Angelica. I love that.” 7. Serena Williams – “I don’t go to restaurants here, so–.” 8. Jane Krakowski – “Can’t think of any. Sorry!” 9. Shawn Levy – “Well, I’ll go with New York. I like– I ate there last night– Scalinatella, at like 61st and Third, that place underground. I like Nobu. That’s really not surprising. I like Cafe des Artistes, with that great antipasto cafe. Does that give you enough? All right.” 10. Ben Stiller – “Bar Pitti.” 11: Keith Powell – “I live in Brooklyn, and I live in Fort Greene. And in Fort Greene, there’s a restaurant called No. 7. And No. 7 is the most amazing restaurant. The head chef is a guy named Tyler Kord. And he used to be the sous chef for Jean-Georges. And the menu changes every month, and he comes up with the most amazing concoctions, both in terms of drinks and food. It’s wonderful. Anything that man makes is, kind-of, a work of art.”
At the YourSingapore launch in Times Square: 12. Matt Harding – “Oh, my gosh, I’m totally blanking on– I love garlic, so I love The Stinking Rose restaurant in L.A. and San Francisco. They just drench everything in garlic. You’re sick the next day, but it’s fantastic! My favorite restaurant in Seattle– I love Tom Douglas. He’s a Seattle chef. He’s at the Dahlia Lounge. New York, there’s just so many fantastic restaurants, I couldn’t think of one. And Singapore, actually, my favorite place to eat is out on the street. The Hawker markets are fantastic! Where’s your next stop? I’m going home to Seattle, and then maybe to Afghanistan.”
At the NY International Auto Show benefit preview for the East Side House Settlement: 13. Fe Fendi – “I like Le Cirque. It’s like going to a family restaurant for me. For lunch, always Cipriani! Cipriani for lunch — dinner at Le Cirque.
At Dressed to Kilt: 14. Alan Cumming – “Gnocco in the East Village.” 15. Shani Davis – “I live in Chicago. My favorite restaurant — fast food — is Harold’s or, maybe, Portillo’s. I love Giordano’s a lot.” 16. Eric Daman – “I’m a huge fan of the Mercer Kitchen. I love their mac and cheese and their carpaccio sea bass.” 17. Kelly Killoren Bensimon – “My ultimate favorite restaurant is Le Bernardin–Eric Ripert– he catered my wedding. It’s, probably, the most incredible restaurant, actually, in the world. But one of my favorite restaurants is Brinkley’s, which is right around the corner from me. It’s a really, really, cool, fun bar, and one of my friends that went to Trinity — ’cause I went to Trinity — went there, so I go there a lot. Any favorite dish anywhere? Wherever– whatever– I like to explore and have fun with the menu. I really, really like and what they’re making is more exciting than just for me to sit there and be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll have rice and vegetables. This is really fun.’ I’d rather have someone make something and be creative.” 18. Al Roker – “Oh, golly! That’s like asking, ‘What’s your favorite kid?’! If it’s Italian, it would be Girasole or Fresco. If it’s a steak place, it would, probably, be Ben Benson’s or across the river, Peter Luger’s.” 19. Nigel Barker – “Del Posto. I love that place. I used to go there on dates all the time. My favorite pub is Dublin 6 in the West Village. It’s my old, local Irish place — D6. And Barbuto is another favorite of mine. It’s not as upscale. It’s, kind of, in between the two. It’s on Washington.” 20. Donald Trump Jr. – “Wow, that’s a — in New York, there’s really no shortage of great restaurants, but, I guess it depends what food we’re going for. If we’re going formal, Jean-Georges is good; Le Cirque is good. If we’re going low-key, there’s a lot of great ones lying around. We’re opening up a great one on Friday — Quattro — in our hotel down in SoHo that’s going to be opening, so a little bit of a Miami, downtown flair.”
Promoting Burlesque to Broadway: 21. Quinn Lemley – One of my favorites is Maloney & Porcelli. They have a great wine dinner that’s all inclusive, and wonderful steaks and oysters. There’s a new Academia del Vino that’s up on Broadway and 89th. It’s where Docks used to be. They have a great wine bar and wonderful food. It’s the same people that have Cesca— it’s that restaurant group. And it’s very happening. It’s so exciting to see something on the Upper West Side above 86th Street.
At Our Family Wedding: 22. Mark Indelicato – “I like to go to places that aren’t mainstream chain restaurants. Sometimes, I’m just walking down the street with friends, and we see like this small, little cafe, and we just go in. Don’t even know the name of it, don’t know what it’s about, but I just like the small, boutique restaurants, like Alice’s Teacup here on the Upper West Side. It’s small and not a lot of people know about it, but it’s still really cool.”
The last time I was suppose to go on a trip on someone else’s dime, I ended up spending the weekend locked in cage. I missed my flight to Jamaica, but avoided getting flattened by a steel light fixture, so it wasn’t all bad. But in the days leading up to this weekend, when I was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas, I made sure to abstain from all the things that make life worth living (like drinking beer on the street). So there was a small sense of triumph when I touched down in Las Vegas for AXE Fixers/March Madness weekend. The men’s grooming company, notorious for their suggestive marketing, is launching the latest addition to their Fixer line, this one called Rise, which somehow translates into a room at the Hard Rock Hotel, to dinner at Le Cirque, and bottle service at Lavo, for me and some other writer types. I won’t bore you with my impressions of Las Vegas, or stories about pompous doormen denying me entry into nightclubs because of my footwear. I will however bore you with some iPhone snaps from a weekend that, sitting back at my desk on a rainy Monday in New York, now feels like a Grey Goose-induced fever dream.
This is the 160GB iPod they sent us before the trip, loaded with movies and songs about Vegas. I watched The Hangover in its entirety, which must be infuriating for David Lynch.
A female lion in the MGM Grand, clearly devastated over the bronzing of her husband, seen below.
The tournament was everywhere. Everyone on the trip had to fill out a bracket with a mystery prize going to the winner. I found out what it was, but am not allowed to say. Hint: It’s an iPad.
These little guys were the reason were our reason for being there. The blue one is called Shock, or as Axe likes to call it, Halls for your Balls.
The X-Scream ride on top of the Stratosphere, as seen through the eyes of a skilled manipulator of natural lighting and framing.
The most terrifying haircut I ever did see on a man.
The line at Lavo. They wouldn’t let me in for wearing black Converse sneakers. An infuriating and outdated policy.
The Strip as soon from the penthouse.
The pool at the Hard Rock as seen from the penthouse. Home to the legendary Sunday Rehab parties.
She totally knew I was taking this picture.
Apparently bikinis and cowboy boots are the new ‘look.’
Whatever possessed me to take this photo, it’s something very dark.
They use these to stab you in the heart.
Mark Ruffalo: My favorite restaurant in New York is Le Cirque. AnnaLynne McCord, at the “Shutter Island” premiere: I live in L.A. I don’t go out that much because I don’t drink, so going out, kind of, becomes work, in a way. But, as far as restaurants, I love Chart House in Malibu for good seafood. And good Spanish food – Mexican food – Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega, one of my favorites. I, actually, really like Chili’s [laughs], for a little chain restaurant. Those are three I can think of right now. What’s good at Chili’s? Oh, my God! The queso. I go in, sometimes just get the chips ’n salsa to go, and go home, but the queso — I love the chicken steak quesadillas, just, like, chain restaurant. I’m from Atlanta – that’s high-class dining when you’re in Atlanta, so! Fran Lebowitz: I would never tell. Then they wouldn’t be my favorites, anymore. Then everyone would be there. Do you think they would want to follow you? It’s not me. It’s like you tell anyone anything– look what happened in New York. It got turned inside out. Anything any New Yorker knew, they tell someone like you, and then there’s a million people there from out of town.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Well, goodness gracious! I guess it depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m in a cultural mood, I’ll go to the number of museums here, and if it’s food, there are so many places all over town to go to. One of my favorite sushi places is called Japonica, down on University and 13th. I love the sushi there. That’s the one that sticks in my mind the most. If you’re lookin’ for sizeable, delicious portions of fish, go to Japonica.
Curtiss Cook: We love Aquavit. We have five children, so we don’t really get out to eat that often. We love the cod, and all their herring meals are really well made.
Nellie Sciutto: Oh, my God! I’m glad you asked that. I love the restaurant, House. It’s my favorite new restaurant in Los Angeles, ‘cause I love Capo – their [restaurant] in Santa Monica. House is like Capo light and less expensive – very fabulous place. House is northern Italian, like me [laughs]. And The Tar Pit, good bar lounge.
Dennis Lehane: I live in Boston and Tampa. I go to a lot of Irish pubs. I’m not Mr. —I don’t go to the hip places anymore. Which Irish pubs do you recommend in Boston? Ah, jeez, I dunno. I used to like a place called the Castle Bar. I used to like another place called the Irish Village. What about Tampa? They don’t have any in Tampa. I just go to a place called the Old Northeast Tavern [in St. Petersburg].
Paz de la Huerta: Lately, I’ve been going to Spa 88, which is a Russian bathhouse on Gold Street. And they have hammam and Russian rooms, so it’s just, kind of like, my hangout right now. Hammam? It’s a Turkish hot room. It’s not a bar, but it’s fun. A lot of Russian Mafia go there …. You can eat; you can swim; you can sauna; you get a massage; it’s a good time.
Emily Mortimer: I like to go to Tatiana in Brighton Beach. It’s a Russian restaurant, and I love it. You get very rude waiters, and you drink vodka and sit looking at the sea on the boardwalk, and it’s really cool. I like the dumplings – Russian dumplings – pelmeni, they’re called, and loads of vodka.
Sylvia Miles: I love upstairs at Joe Allen’s, and that’s really swell, if you go to the theater, ’cause everybody in the theater’s there and all your old friends. They have all kinds of appetizers, which is good. They have a different menu than downstairs at Joe Allen’s. It’s like a supper menu; it’s good; that lobster salad; the kind of things that you’d get if you weren’t going to eat a big meal. If I’m going to the theater, there’s a lot of old favorites. And a lot of them are gone. There’s a lot of nice places, like Philippe’s. And I go to Momofuku. But I don’t like places that have very rich food.
Mark Cuban, at the AlwaysOn Media conference: Restaurants in Dallas are Bob’s Steak and Chop House; McDonald’s, for their grilled-chicken salad; Jason’s Deli; the Motley Pub, at the American Airlines Center; Kenichi – those are my hangouts.
Mia Tyler, at the Fullfast and CelluScience press launch:: Oh, my God, I’m such a nerd now. I stay home. I don’t even go out. I live in L.A., so I live in this little, artsy, Silver Lake neighborhood, and I like lounges. I’m not even exciting anymore. What are some of the lounges you go to? I like to eat, so we’ll go to eat. I love sushi. There’s a place called Taiyo that I’m at, at least once a week, and, I, kind of, eat vegan, vegetarian food, so I’ll go to little, vegan places. There’s a place called Vegan House that I order from and I go to, all the time. I like these little off—off-the-track, off-the-path, little places. There’s a couple bars I go to that are just kinda divey. There’s a place called the Cha Cha Lounge, and I love it there. It’s really cute. And then there’s the Red Lion across the street from it. They got two-dollar PBRs.