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But times have changed and even old stalwarts have to change with them. So come Saturday, Le Cirque is officially opening its revamped wine bar and cafe, where neither jackets, reservations nor a large checkbook are required to sample the $18 mini cheeseburgers or $16 croque monsieur on chef Christophe Bellanca's new cafe menu. (Main courses in the dining room hover in the $40 to $50 range.) Meanwhile, the sommeliers have paired the snacks with wines, beers and sakes, like a flight of Alsatian beers to go with a tarte flambé, or a sake flight with the hamachi sashimi.
"We wanted to do something more casual, something for the neighborhood," says Mauro Maccioni, son of Le Cirque owner Sirio, pointing out that they softened price points for the wine bar by re-creating dishes like goujonettes of sole or tuna tartar with more affordable ingredients like flounder or salmon. Should anyone decide they want to splash out on the famous foie gras terrine ($41), for example, they can order from the dining room menu without donning a blazer.
"People think, 'Oh, Le Cirque, it's for a special occasion,'" says Maccioni. "But we wanted to do something more fun."