Before there were celebrity chefs, there was the celebrity restaurateur: Sirio Maccioni, the unflappable owner of New York's Le Cirque 2000. Friend and feeder of kings and presidents, Maccioni recently stopped taking reservations long enough to pen his memoir, Sirio: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque (Wiley & Sons). Here he offers some savory travel morsels from a well-fed career.
IN PRAISE OF REGIONALISM "My favorite way to eat is to get in a car in Italy and just start driving. Every fifty kilometers, the food changes."
CHOOSING A RESTAURANT "With few exceptions—Paul Bocuse in Lyons is one—great chefs don't make great restaurateurs. After years of sweating it out in the kitchen, all they want is revenge."
BURGER WARS "You need a scorecard to keep track of New York's designer burgers, but the one at '21' (21 W. 52nd St.; 212/582-7200) is still the best."
PARIS CONFIDENTIAL "I usually stay at the Ritz (15 Place Vendôme; 33-1/43-16-30-70) because the general manager is an old friend. I may be opening an Italian restaurant there. Stay tuned."
21, New York
What began as a speakeasy in Midtown during Prohibition has become one of the most historically significant dining destinations in the country. The three restaurants and ten private rooms serving fine American cuisine have seated every president from Eisenhower to Bush Jr. and most of Hollywood Royalty (including Bogart and Bacall’s first date). Even the kitchen served as the site of clandestine affections of Ernest Hemingway and the girlfriend of gangster “Legs” Diamond. Whether you dine on fine American cuisine in the Bar Room beneath the toy-covered ceiling or have cocktails by the wood-burning fireplace at Bar '21' and Lounge, casual dress is not permitted. The same goes for the Upstairs Room, where the salon-inspired atmosphere and Wynne Evans murals have become a popular backdrop for marriage proposals.
The Ritz, Paris
An institution since 1898, the lavish, opulent Ritz—near the Louvre museum and Tuileries gardens—has maintained its stature as one of Paris’s leading hotels despite a plethora of trendy newcomers. Of course, not everyone can claim the Ritz’s history: it was the world’s first hotel to have a private bath in every room, and everyone from Edward VII to Coco Chanel has called it home (in Chanel’s case, for 37 years). The hotel is undergoing massive renovations and will be closed until summer 2014, but Belle Époque touches will remain. Swan-shaped, gold-plated faucets grace the tubs; a surfeit of period Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Empire furniture fills the rooms; and thousands of euros worth of flowers scent the air each week. Traditional white-glove service, a Roman-style pool ringed with columns, and a Michelin-starred restaurant only add to this lap-of-luxury experience.