Sirio, the Brightest Star

Sirio, the Brightest Star
(Waiting for Frank Bruni)
A Whitney Global Media Commentary
February 7, 2008
By William O’Shaughnessy


New York is loaded with eateries where you are greeted when calling for a reservation by a Debbie, a Jennifer or a Tiffany.  And when you arrive one is immediately confronted with a bevy of bimbos flanking a dour, sour, self-important “maitre’d” standing imperiously behind a podium punching numbers into a computer.  Think BLT Steak on 57th owned by money man Jimmy Haber or Quality Meats on 58th Street and its cousin the Post House where once stood the venerable Quo Vadis.


Now the Good News: there still remain in this town real, authentic restaurants with warm, friendly, beckoning proprietors untouched by speculators, “investors” or the fast money guys.  The permittees of these most agreeable places have names such as Arpaia, Burke, Niccolini, Carravagi, Von Bidder, Zuliani, Selimaj, Cipriani, Lomonaco, Masson, Tong, Neary, Dussin, McGuire, Viterale, Suric, Bruno and, up in the Bronx, Migliucci.  Among these old school purveyors of food and hospitality, there is also one named Sirio Maccioni who is the best of what they are. 


The great Sirio sat on this recent winter night at a small round table near the coat room of his dazzling Le Cirque restaurant off 58th Street on the eastside of Manhattan.  The table has no number and it is far from the best in the house.  But it is known to every busboy, waiter, captain, bartender and sommelier as “Maestro Sirio’s table.”


The location of which does have its strategic charm for it affords the world’s greatest restaurateur an unobstructed view of any shapely legs coming right through the revolving front

door or enticingly entering the dining room in a dress cut low.  The Ringmaster of Le Cirque is 75, but misses nothing well put together.


For most of this February day, the handsome Tuscan has resembled an angry lion in the middle of winter as he awaits the latest review by the Times’ gifted food critic Frank Bruni who, two years ago, denied Maccioni three stars.


The brilliant Bruni’s previous postings for the Times included a stint as Houston Bureau Chief when George W. Bush was governor of Texas.  He was also Rome Bureau Chief in the Eternal City.  And now he is the most powerful food critic in America.


No one approached the man in the elegant velvet dinner jacket at the round table near the coat room.  Even his comely wife Egidiana and his attractive sons Marco and Mauro gave Sirio a wide berth on this tense night in New York City while they sweated out the wait for Frank Bruni’s findings on the latest incarnation of the famous Le Cirque.  They are the royalty of the restaurant and hospitality profession.  But even the Maccionis must submit to Mr. Bruni’s scrutiny and pronouncements as to the worth and merit of their genius and enterprise.  The only member of the Maccioni family oblivious to this tension in the air this night was 2 ½ year old Stella Sofia Maccioni, who was using all her wiles to distract “Nonno Sirio.”


Wednesday’s New York Times daily newspaper would not slap sidewalks all over the world until dawn the next day.  But at precisely 8:45 on this Tuesday night in New York City, as Sirio Maccioni waited for Bruni’s verdict, Christophe Bellanca, the new head chef in whom the Maccionis are so well pleased, burst from the kitchen, rushed through the dining room and moved toward his patron at the round table with an Internet posting: “Maestro … three stars!” Which means “Excellent.”


And then all over this fancy place imagined in the mind of Adam Tihany to look like a circus, the corks started popping and the champagne flowed.  As the excitement built around the man in the velvet jacket … the 2 ½ year old little girl with the bright Italian eyes pushed her way through the crowd now assembling near the round table.  She held aloft a single red rose retrieved from one of the tables in the packed dining room.  Stella Maccioni held it high and proffered it directly to her grandfather:  “Bravo, Nonno!”  And then she kissed the world’s greatest restaurateur whose own tanned face was wet with silent tears of gratitude.


The 75-year-old man gave his granddaughter a hug and shook hands with Marta, the coat check girl, and Mario Wainer, the cordial and very correct maitre’d.  Both were smiling for the first time all day.  Sirio gathered himself and moved toward the dining room to once more perform his courtly magic.


He once fed Sinatra, DiMaggio and a pope and most of the ladies who lunch in every season.  Some of the old dazzlers like Marietta Tree, Brooke Astor and Kitty Hart are gone.  And Gianni Agnelli, Bill Paley and Nelson (you have to ask?) are only memories of what this town once was.  But the great Maccioni is still in the game.


Tomorrow Mr. Maccioni will receive congratulatory messages from Silvio Berlusconi, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Rudy Giuliani, Edward Cardinal Egan, Liz Smith, Tony Bennett, Cindy Adams, John Fairchild, Barbara Walters, Mario Cuomo, Donald Trump, Ron Perelman, Barbara Taylor Bradford, David Patrick Columbia, Carl Icahn, Woody Allen and Robert DeNiro.


He will even receive calls from some of his restaurant colleagues who idolize him.  Julian Niccolini of the Four Seasons and Gerardo Bruno of San Pietro are among those competitors who consider him an icon of their tribe and will be pleased.  And Bruce Snyder and Bryan McGuire, the “21” legends, and Michael Lomonaco of Porter House will send congrats to the Italian who elevated their calling with a restaurant with a French name.

But, for tonight, fortified and validated by that third star from Bruni and the kiss from Stella, Sirio Maccioni straightened his jacket and was once more up and moving through his high class saloon and flirting with beautiful women.


In a rather glib headline for the glowing review, the Times called what Sirio dispenses so effortlessly as “decadence.”  Others who have known the fun and haze of an evening in his care and keeping, however, find him possessed only of considerable grace … style … glamour … class … and a relentless generosity of spirit.  All of which are in short supply in this town.


As the man Sirio moved from table to table this night, Egidiana Palmieri, who came out of Montecatini so long ago and gave up a singing career to be his wife during all those early years in New York at the Colony, La Foret and Delmonicos, was telling someone, “Sirio means ‘star’ in Italianhe was named after the brightest star … the north star.”


William O’Shaughnessy


is president of Whitney Radio and editorial director of stations WVOX and WVIP, Westchester, N.Y.    He is a former chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters and served as president of the New York State Broadcasters Association.  During his 18-year service at NAB, he specialized in free speech and First Amendment issues. 


He is a director and chairman of the Endowment Committee of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut.


A self-styled “Rockefeller Republican,” he was active in the presidential campaign of President George H.W. Bush and served as chairman of Republicans for Mario Cuomo during each of the Governor’s three successful campaigns for governor of New York.


He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) and “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001), collections of his radio commentaries, essays and interviews, published by Fordham University Press.  “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” was released in April, 2004.  He has just started his Fourth volume “AGAIN!  Run That By Me One More Time.”



Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media