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Osteria del Circo


BeefCheeks
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Those of us New Yorkers who have spent time in the restaurants Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo know full well: if you're not an FOS (friend of Sirio), you're taking your hard earned dollars as well as your culinary life in your hands. You might be 1) fed something cold; 2) seated so close to the bathroom that when the door swings open, it hits your table; 3) forced to review your check with a calculator and a magnifying glass; 4) treated like dreck if you're a party of women; 5) treated like dreck if you're from out-of-town. Nevertheless, many of us try and try again to let by-gones be by-gones; we tolerate bad behavior for a tiny morsel of Le Cirque's black cod wrapped in crispy potato, or Osteria's bombolini. But in this day and age, when restaurants like L'Impero and Lupa and Cesca abound, why in god's name do we continue to torture ourselves?

Recently, I had the following experience at Circo: party of three, we ordered appetizers and mains, and a bottle of wine ($30) from the fairly broad list. What arrived was not the wine we ordered, but a different wine from the same winemaker, at a vastly different price ($80). I rejected the wine when the waiter brought it over, and told him it was not the one I ordered; he argued with me. I gently asked him to bring me the wine list, which he did, and I showed him what I ordered; he continued to argue with me. When I asked for the manager, he said "this is what the sommelier gave me for you. But I'll bring you the other one." I asked if what I had ordered wasn't available, and he said no, but he had to go and get it from the "wine room upstairs." The correct wine arrived, was uncorked, poured messily, and plunked down on the table.

Appetizers arrived cold when they should have been hot; main courses were extraordinary in their pricey blandness; sides were ice cold. For dessert, we ordered the bombolini and three cheeses, the latter of which arrived with a basket of toasted foccacia looking as though it had been leftover from another table's dinner service, and then run under the broiler for a moment. We asked for olive oil and never received it, our half-filled glasses of $12/bottle sparkling water were re-filled with tap water when the bottle was not yet killed.

Bill including tax: $300+

Has anyone had similar experiences at this establishment? And why do we think--from a psychological point of view -- that diners continue to patronize "fancy" restaurants that offer shoddy and downright rude service when better places, offering better, more creative food and better service abound?

(And does anyone have a copy of Ruth Reichl's (in)famous review of Le Cirque, or a link to it?)

Edited by BeefCheeks (log)

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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We haven't been since the turn of the century. Back then, I would say things were much better than you describe them. Of course, we haven't been back for a reason, that being what you mentioned...There are plenty of other restaurants, with new ones everyday. Osteria del Circo just wasnt special enough to warrant visits to.

Now that we live 1 1/2 hours away instead of 30 minutes, we try to make each trip to the city count even more. Looks like we won't be back to OdC till the turn of the next century.

Edited by adegiulio (log)

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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I frequently ate there til 2000, the lobster salad and ravioli was one of my favorite meals. I also learned when bringing an attractive enough date someone would come over and offer to make us anything we wanted not on the menu. So I could see there being equal and opposite behavior as well. Ultimately it was higher prices for portions small to start that led me to stop eating there and aren't there flatscreen TVs over the bar now? It's a different place.

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we tolerate bad behavior for a tiny morsel of Le Cirque's black cod wrapped in crispy potato,

Why? You can still get the dish at Daniel, which is a MUCH better restaurant. I don't think Le Cirque has had a "four star" kitchen since Daniel Boulud left.

I had similar experience to your's at Le Cirque 2000, and I have not returned.

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I have eaten at Circo several times over the past two or three years and have always had good service and good food.

It sounds like you must be a friend of Sirio :laugh:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I have eaten at Circo several times over the past two or three years and have always had good service and good food.

It sounds like you must be a friend of Sirio :laugh:

No such luck!

This does raise an important issue though.

That of one's dining expectations.

First--restaurants do thrive on regular business. FG does a nice job in his book

explaining this. Sirio is noted for his cultivation of and care for his regulars.

Second--the "buzz" about Sirio says that if his restaurant doesn't recognize you

--you will not get optimum service etc. (this has been promulgated by various reviewers and notably, Ruth Reichl). I believe that many people enter these restaurants cognicent of this buzz.

(almost looking for trouble so to speak).

I also believe that a lot of people go unaware that the customer is really in far greater control of their dining experience than they realize and allow restaurants to run roughshod over them.

That said, the question really is what is the acceptable level of service and food for these places regardless of the notoriety of the diner?

It is certainly logical to assume that regulars will get special treatment. (true of any establishment).

I ate at Le Cirque only once with people who were good "friends" of Sirio. I can say that the level of service was over the top: a table in the middle of the room--truffles personally shaved over my pasta (by Sirio) wine appeared seemingly out of nowhere etc etc etc.

Someone sitting at a less prominent table and getting only good basic service might look at all the fooferaw and feel slighted or less than worthy.

Frankly, a more quiet table in the corner and less fawning would have been my preference.

Being the center of attention is tiring!

The original Le Cirque was in large part akin to a dining club. I will also say that if any major restaurant in NYC "knows" you-there will be perqs! My wife and I get the treatment at our local Italian place because we are regulars. FG is on to something!!!

So, if a savvy diner goes to Le Cirque (or anywhere) and does not accept a table that is clearly inferior and demands good service etc, nine times out of ten at nine places out of ten the customer will be fine. If that customer goes expecting trouble more often than not, they will find it. That same customer may also, given the "buzz", tend to see a slight or poor service where, in fact, there is none.

That said, the wine fiasco beefchecks experienced was unacceptable anywhere. I also believe that this alone would cause one to view the restaurant with a jaundiced eye.

I totally disagree with his opening paragraph: "everybody knows...." If everybody does indeed know and this is true--then one would assume logically, that everybody who visits the restaurant is either a masochist or stupid.

I believe that beefcheeks had a bad experience at Circo and that the behavior of the restaurant as described was unacceptable. A letter to the owners would certainly be in order.

As I noted, I have dined a number of times at Circo--they do not know me from a hole in the wall--and I have had good service (at least a level which one would expect) and good food.

In fact the last time my guests and I were seated a table away from Martha Stewart and her party and I saw no difference in the level of service between the two tables. Our waiters were friendly and helpful in discussing the wine list as well as the food.

As for Le Cirque, as I noted, I only dined there once. I do believe that the "buzz" or conventional wisdom regarding Le Cirque has probably carried over to Circo. Thus every lapse or perceived slight is seen as" Ah Ha! It those nefarious celebrity worshiping Maccioni's at work again!

The Reichl double review was brilliant but has a great flaw. It merely points up what any savvy diner knows--unfortunately, there are many restaurants that fawn over regulars (and the rich and famous) which is no big deal; but many tend to slight unknown diners, which is a big deal.

Ms Reichl had a point to make and she became a passive diner. Unfortunately, a passive diner will get run over in far too many restaurants in NYC.

The gruff staff at places like the Palm are a good example. New York City is loaded with these joints--haute and non haute, expensive and cheap etc!

It is almost as if many restaurants here force one to pass a test and prove their worthiness to dine there..

Dining well in New York City (and a few other places) can be a challenge--it shouldn't be-- but this is a fact of life in the big city. A diner often needs to be willing and able to demand good service and to establish their own dining credentials at many places. Again, FG handles these issues very well in his book.

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Suggesting that diners who go to one of Sirio's establishments (or any establishment, for that matter) are in complete control of their dining experience is, to say the least, hilarious and remarkably naive; to say the most, utterly ridiculous. And indeed, I agree with the previous poster, JohnL is likely a friend.

But to the point: hypothetically speaking, JohnL, what would you do if the 1) service was abominable; 2) the food was marginally edible; 3) the sommelier hoped that, being a woman, you wouldn't likely notice the difference between a $30 bottle of wine and its far pricier mate on the list because the producer was the same? Is a letter in order, and will it, in your opinion, do? Indulge me for one moment: you have had this experience, you write your letter, and you receive a response from Maccionni's office. What does it say?

(And remember, we are talking about Maccionni, not Meyer.....)

Edited by BeefCheeks (log)

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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Suggesting that diners who go to one of Sirio's establishments (or any establishment, for that matter) are in complete control of their dining experience is, to say the least, hilarious and remarkably naive; to say the most, utterly ridiculous.  And indeed, I agree with the previous poster, JohnL is likely a friend.

But to the point: hypothetically speaking, JohnL, what would you do if the 1) service was abominable; 2) the food was marginally edible; 3) the sommelier hoped that, being a woman, you wouldn't likely notice the difference between a $30 bottle of wine and its far pricier mate on the list because the producer was the same? Is a letter in order, and will it, in your opinion, do? Indulge me for one moment: you have had this experience, you write your letter, and you receive a response from Maccionni's office. What does it say?

(And remember, we are talking about Maccionni, not Meyer.....)

This blogger had a similar experience at Le Cirque recently and his mother wrote a letter....here is how the story ends

http://www.amateurgourmet.com/the_amateur_..._from_siri.html

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after reading this:

http://www.amateurgourmet.com/the_amateur_...a_jerk_wou.html

I can't really muster any outrage.

They started out wrong by kissing up to Sirio. Fricking amateurish...and it pinpoints them as rubes to begin with.

and LC is one of those places, like Cipriani et al, where you absolutely do not begin that way if you are not known to the establishment.

I have no reason to doubt JohnL...the entire secret to LC or any other place of that ilk is to act like you've been there before.

instead of walking up to the owner, who doesn't know you from Adam, and ""Excuse me, Sirio," she said in her charming New York accent, "I just want to say how excited we are to eat here. We're very big fans.""

yeah, you're already screwed when you begin that way.

except for the really funny thing -- they had excellent service, no one spat in their food...etc.

they just didn't like the table they got. well, yeah, act like rubes and you're going to get the worst table in the house...someone has to sit there.

sorry to be so blunt, but this blogpost was worthless and inane. I thought that after the leadin I would read how poorly they were treated, etc. and none of it happened! they got a bad table. oh well. oh, and they didn't even speak up when given that table.

that link is utter proof that JohnL is correct.

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Suggesting that diners who go to one of Sirio's establishments (or any establishment, for that matter) are in complete control of their dining experience is, to say the least, hilarious and remarkably naive; to say the most, utterly ridiculous.  And indeed, I agree with the previous poster, JohnL is likely a friend.

But to the point: hypothetically speaking, JohnL, what would you do if the 1) service was abominable; 2) the food was marginally edible; 3) the sommelier hoped that, being a woman, you wouldn't likely notice the difference between a $30 bottle of wine and its far pricier mate on the list because the producer was the same? Is a letter in order, and will it, in your opinion, do? Indulge me for one moment: you have had this experience, you write your letter, and you receive a response from Maccionni's office. What does it say?

(And remember, we are talking about Maccionni, not Meyer.....)

This blogger had a similar experience at Le Cirque recently and his mother wrote a letter....here is how the story ends

http://www.amateurgourmet.com/the_amateur_..._from_siri.html

I have to say, nothing in the review that I can discover justifies the blogger's dismay. Sirio failed to air kiss them. Astoundingly enough, for a first visit on a Friday night, they didn't get seated in the main dining toom with the regulars who have dropped tens of thoussands of dollars there over the years, but in the second room. And, most tragic, when they sent the artichoke back as uncooked, the dastardly waiter....(wait for it)... (wait)....AGREED with them! Those bastards!

Unlike Beefcheeks, the Amateur Gourmet clearly had a chip going in and, whatever other sins may darken Sirio's soul, he handled an unfair review with aplomb.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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the other thing is that all of this reeks of confirmation bias.

if you walk into a restaurant expecting to be treated poorly...you will be (or at least you will think you were). and you'll perceive slights where they don't exist. and when you're treated well...except for the table placement....you won't try to rectify the table placement but will instead allow it influence everything else.

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to put it more succintly,

when I read the first part of the blogpost, I expected to write here:

"well, they acted like rubes so it's not a surprise that they were treated poorly at a place like LC. still, that's no excuse for poor service."

but then I ran into one teeny problem. they admittedly had good service. AG wanted to disparage the place going in.

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It is a curious balance of power that bloggers have attained if someone of the stature of Sirio has to kiss AG's behind. I suppose it's a matter of opinion that if you expect bad treatment, you will get it but there is no reasonable scientific basis for that or the vice versa would hold true as well.

I expected great service at Perse....no bueno.

Bad service at AdNY.....bueno.

I think its just a roll of the dice, not so much expectation but people can actively encourage bad treatment. Life isnt about pulling out the big guns and blasting your way to what you want, it's about carefully nudging people where you want them to be with a smile and the right language.

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I agree with the second half of your post.

but,

the plural of anecdote is not data.

and,

"I suppose it's a matter of opinion that if you expect bad treatment, you will get it but there is no reasonable scientific basis for that or the vice versa would hold true as well."

actually, there are plenty of studies on confirmation bias. its real.

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I agree with the second half of your post.

but,

the plural of anecdote is not data.

and,

"I suppose it's a matter of opinion that if you expect bad treatment, you will get it but there is no reasonable scientific basis for that or the vice versa would hold true as well."

actually, there are plenty of studies on confirmation bias. its real.

Actually what would be true is the perception of bad treatment. It does not necessarily follow that the treatment would, in fact, have been bad.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Indeed this is why VIP de facto policies are ill advised in the long run, though AG seemed a bit precious, the Ruth Reichl precursor to LC treatment seemed to set the tone.

I agree with you in the long run Nathan, it's just that a slight flaw in confirmation bias theory is it does not account strongly enough for people who actively sabotage thier own experiences as opposed to those who are dubious at first but leave room to be pleasantly suprised......if warranted ....

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Indeed this is why VIP de facto policies are ill advised in the long run, though AG seemed a bit precious, the Ruth Reichl precursor to LC treatment seemed to set the tone.

I agree with you in the long run Nathan, it's just that a slight flaw in confirmation bias theory is it does not account strongly enough for people who actively sabotage thier own experiences as opposed to those who are dubious at first but leave room to be pleasantly suprised......if warranted ....

In my experience the staff will bully you if they think they can get away with it. I find this unacceptable in any restaurant much less one at this price point. They might as well just run the place as a private club, if you have to nearly come to blows with the host to make them honor an eight pm reservation on a prime night. Sure, they comped me a round of champagne and gave me a table next to Liz Smith, but it wasn't until they had made wait at the bar for over an hour and I told them I was leaving never to return. I was really pissed, because it was clear they were seating regulars walking in off the street.

I did go back one more time, but there failure to honor a food allergy request was a deal breaker.

Indeed this is why VIP de facto policies are ill advised in the long run,

They work fine at the better restaurants, as long as you maintain a very high standard for the regular visitor. Le Cirque failed to do that.

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as long as you maintain a very high standard for the regular visitor

And there lies the problem, the shift in emphasis is always obvious.

It's just human nature.

People always notice if other people are being treated better even if they are being treated well.

It isnt about the specifics, it's simply making people feel less important.

Indeed the true test of a good MaitreD is to do it transparently.

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