Le Cirque is a culinary institution. For more than three decades in Manhattan and 15 years at Bellagio, the name has been synonymous with classic French dining. Chefs have come and gone, many of them superstars. Yet Le Cirque has always been a constant, refusing to follow fads or trends. But over the past year, Grégory Pugin has breathed new life into the restaurant, making it more relevant than it’s been in years while still respecting its unique place in culinary history.
Trained in France under Chef Jean-Marie Gautier, Pugin went on to open eight restaurants for Chef of the Century Joel Robuchon. Later, at New York’s Veritas, he earned a Michelin star in 2009 and a Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination from the James Beard Foundation. Bellagio brought him to town in 2010, and charged him with making Le Cirque more approachable and contemporary.
What Pugin did with that freedom was institute two separate menus. Longtime fans of the restaurant can still order classics like escargot, Dover sole and the famed Rabbit Symphony. But the chef’s seasonal choices rely on familiar proteins prepared with a modern fine-dining flair – like his langoustine with caviar and apple-vodka gelee, and his oxtail bucatini.
“They are two different types of cuisine,” Pugin says. “There are old-school dishes that our customers still appreciate. And my dishes are a little bit more contemporary. However, they blend pretty well in the menu. And it gives our guests alternatives.”