Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Circus

May 18

To see the hype surrounding the opening of the third incarnation of Le Cirque, you'd think New York City had never had a restaurant before. There were items about it on national news programs. At least one daily newspaper started a feature about the restaurant on Page 1.
Le Cirque's heyday was before my time, but even when I arrived in New York in 1999, in time to see the restaurant's second version, Le Cirque 2000, the staff had enough gall to look me up and down when I showed up, wearing a suit, to an event I had been invited to, and then glance at me with the implicit inquiry: "What are you doing here?" It reminded me of when I stood too near the cool kids in junior high.
I guess I should have worn a better suit. And better shoes. I'm told shoes are a dead giveaway.
At tonight's opening party, I found myself talking about plastic surgery a lot. So much of it was in evidence, so many people with stretched out skin and unblinking eyes. I guess in a way there's a certain implicit grandeur to being so mangled. If your looks are that important, certainly you must play some pivotal role in some social circle, somewhere, or did at one time.
I don't recognize many famous people. I'm oblivious to New York socialites, and you have to be a pretty famous movie star for me to recognize you out of context, unless you're involved in the restaurant world in some way.
I did recognize Bill Cosby, however, and I was told that Billy Joel was there, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, well, "everybody" was a word often repeated in describing the crowd. Le Cirque's patriarch, Sirio Maccioni, reportedly spent the early portion of the party at a hidden private table with Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. I saw him later sitting at a banquette with many young women.
There weren't many chefs, but the party started at 6:30 and was winding down when I left shortly after 9, and chefs are busy during dinnertime.
I did greet Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his business partner, Phil Suarez, but mostly I talked to publicists, who complained about the publicist who threw the party, saying that she only knew how to throw big, crowded parties at which you spend most of the time battling your way from one crowded space to another.
I had a some nice chats with a few journalists, including the always entertaining Regina Schrambling, who made a passing comment on the staircase about prostitutes upstairs, WNYC's Leonard Lopate and food writer extraordinaire Jeffrey Steingarten, but I probably had the most fun talking to Mr. Steingarten's wife, Caron Smith, who is chief curator of the Rubin Museum of Art, which specializes in Himalayan works.
She was a China scholar, and I lived in China for a year, so we bonded.
I was in China in 1988-89, and was in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. Ms. Smith told me something I didn't know about the events leading up to the protests that ended in bloodshed.
What I did know was that in the months preceding it the national art museum in Beijing featured its first exhibit of modern Chinese art. What I didn't know was that artists had seized the museum and forced the exhibit into existence. Ms. Smith said it was the first signs of the intellectual rebellion that burst into the open following the April death of former president Hu Yaobang — who was widely regarded as a sympathizer of reformers — and then gained steam with the arrival of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev that May.
That was more interesting than the talk of plastic surgery.
I eventually ended up in Le Cirque's kitchen, where mild mayhem ensued as the husband of one of Martha Stewart's TV executives tried to find dates for the executive's son.
They had been drinking, and the food to party-attendee ratio was quite low. So after the party I ate:

A quarter pounder with cheese,
a large order of fries and
a Diet Coke

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