Elli Jafari helped open Spago in San Francisco, the Bellagio in Vegas, and Pearl and Nikki Beach in Miami before eventually moving to New York to help open Aer in the meatpacking district. Six months ago she landed the job of GM at Le Cirque. She was at first intimidated by “Sirio’s people,” as the 30-year regulars are called, but they took kindly to her during her first month on the job. And who wouldn’t? We asked her how she navigates the world of VIPs and “Super Super VIPs.”
When you first started working here, what advice did old-timers give you about working with Sirio?
One of his guests said, “It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake as long as you let him know.” He wants to know everything. When he’s not here, he calls fifteen times.
More than one critic — Frank Bruni and quite notoriously the Amateur Gourmet among them — has complained that there is a double standard at Le Cirque. Do diners get upset if Sirio doesn’t come over to them?
Obviously, we know the regulars by name. For the others, there’s me. It’s my job to make sure they get all the attention and make sure they’re treated the same. We make everyone feel like a VIP.
Are there levels of soigné treatment? Say VIP, Super VIP, and Super Super VIP?
There are those Super Super VIPs that don’t even need a reservation. In the middle of a busy night, we’ve had to drag in a table and make a table in the middle of the room.
Is there someone who is allowed to flaunt the “jackets required” rule?
Yes— I don’t want to say who it is, but he normally wears a sweater and a vest. He’s one of the richest people in New York City.
What if such a person has had a breakup? Will you comment about their personal lives?
We let them know if their exes are here. We’ll call their assistants and tell them ahead of time.
If you’re an average Joe, what are the best tables to ask for?
For a party of two, Table 8, because you see the whole dining room from it. For a four-top, I’d recommend Table 30.
How has the menu changed since Christophe Bellanca replaced Pierre Schaedelin?
He changed the menu 110 percent — he went back a little toward the classic dishes: The paupiette is back on the menu. From what I heard Pierre’s food was more modern. He wanted to bring [the menu] into the new world, and I don’t think it was well received with our clientele.
What items will old-timers order that aren’t on the menu?
One of the Le Cirque “classics” is the flounder — everyone who is anyone orders that. And the panache salad. I heard stories about panache salads back in the day. Every lady who came to Le Cirque had that.
Have diners been putting that monster truffle to use?
We had six guests at our chef’s table. We did seven courses of truffles — they even had truffles on their vanilla ice cream. Let’s just say it was a great tab!