June 5, 2006 | Insatiable Critic

Le Cirque

A dozen chefs dance silently on the kitchen stage at Le Cirque, fluffing up frisée on plates that look like bridal bouquets. It’s the night of the very first friends-and-family tasting at the resin-coated ebony chef’s table. I definitely do not recall starters quite so boldly sprouty and frondful at the old Le Cirque 2000. English peas and wild mushrooms three ways: chilled pea soup with chanterelles, peas in casserole with morels, pea ravioli and porcini. Tomato in a trio of incarnations. Tomato sorbet is a surprise in the sprightly gazpacho. Alsatian-born chef Pierre Schaedelin spent his downtime cooking for Martha Stewart when prison probation kept her home after dark, and it shows. “He fell in love with my garden,” says Stewart, on my right. “Pierre came back a different man,” Sirio Maccioni says, with a nod to the evening’s leafiness. Le Cirque old-timers will be relieved to find crispy pig’s feet, tête de veau vinaigrette, and unabashedly retro quenelles de brochet as well as the meaty orange-honey-glazed duck breast with sweet-and-sour baby turnips, and the wondrously crusty braised lamb shoulder we’re tasting tonight. Tippling from the new 50-ounce wine goblets is a challenge. I tilt my head way back as if for a beauty salon shampoo. (Prediction: The glasses will shrink.) Can’t afford $42-to-$48 entrées? Lunch in the bar: There’s a $39 prix fixe or a three-course box lunch to go. Too stubborn to retire, Sirio is back, eager to seduce toot New York.

151 E. 58th St. nr. Lexington 212 644 0202

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