It’s no hot dog stand, but it’s no Max’s Restaurant either. Its owner Sirio Maccioni describes it in its website ( as “a place where the worlds of food, fashion, art and culture converge,” although he doesn’t say how it enables patrons to live, or even to just think about, art and culture between the soup and the entrée.

New York’s Le Cirque seats about 150 in separate dining, private event and bar areas. Its décor of yellow and orange evokes “ a circus big top that actually looks more like the inside of a humungous lamp shade.”

The above observation occurs in a 2008 review of Le Cirque by New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. It’s titled, with tongue firmly in cheek, “In Defense of Decadence” (an allusion to food activist Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, which advocates eating simple organic food and “mostly plants”). The Bruni review describes Le Cirque offerings as “opulent,” “luxurious,” “ostentatious, “wanton,” and “craven” among other epithets. And all for consumption in “a setting of deliberate pompousness.”

The owner, said Bruni, is in his restaurant practically every night, “beckoning you to come in and exhorting you to go for broke, a stubborn evangelist for unblushing indulgence. What he’s selling is not so much one evening of pleasure as a whole history, a whole legend, of privilege and pampering.”

Bruni gave Le Cirque a rating of three stars and a half out of a possible four, together with a list of recommended dishes. He did express some guilt over his endorsement of such indulgence, which during the current economic crisis comes off as uncool except for the nouveau riche and the not-so-nouveau moneyed.

Other reviewers have been less kind. Some claim that Le Cirque intentionally makes non-celebrities feel worthless by giving them bad tables and providing mediocre service while still charging exorbitant prices. From Bruni’s and these reviewers’ description, Le Cirque does sound like a place where arrivistes, celebrities and the important, as well as those “scarily expert at looking that way” (Bruni), come to be seen. A few embezzlers, Mafiosi, and the shameless rulers of certain poor third world countries won’t be out of place in Le Cirque

Indeed they haven’t been. The Ponzi scheme swindler Bernard Madoff, who’s in prison for 150 years, was reportedly a patron. In a just world he would be on trial for genocide and other high crimes at the International Criminal Court for orchestrating the carpet bombing of Indochina and the brutal 1973 coup in Chile. But former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger still frequents Le Cirque. Maybe the cholesterol in the pate foie gras will get him. No fair wishing the same of our own little Madoffs (the pyramid scammers) and Kissingers (those responsible for extra-judicial killings). They deserve worse.

But before Palace propagandist Cerge Remonde goes into another paroxysm against the media, whether here or abroad, we probably need to inform him that Bruni is a prize-winning journalist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, with about 30 years’ experience reporting everything from child abuse to US presidential campaigns. The New York Times says he has covered Washington DC, was the NYT bureau chief in Rome, and is a best selling author of, among others, a book on George W. Bush (Ambling Into History, 2003).

All that makes Bruni credible, even if his newspaper hasn’t always been (particularly during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003). Note his adjectives, then. “Simple” — which Cerge Remonde, who has little, if any, respect for the oral or written word, used to describe his boss Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and company’s July 31 dinner at Le Cirque — “simple” isn’t one of them.

“Ostentatious,” “wanton” and “craven” are particularly memorable. Of equal interest is the information that for prime dinner time, patrons have to call two weeks in advance, which means that, despite Remonde’s and others in the Arroyo retinue ‘s implication that the dinner was a spur-of-the-moment thing, it was planned at least two weeks in advance.

But let’s not get into such details as the fact that Le Cirque wasn’t the only high- end restaurant where Arroyo and company dined before and after her precious 30-minute visit with Barack Obama. In one steak house, the dinner bill of US,000 came close to the US,000 the gang spent at Le Cirque. The Le Cirque dinner has been justly described as outrageous, excessive, disgusting, and more, in the context of the fact that between 2 million to 3.7 million families go hungry regularly in the Philippines and together with rats and stray dogs have to scrounge for food in garbage bins and other places far far away from Le Cirque. No caviar, pate de foie gras, Chilean sea bass and French champagne to wash it down for them.

But as scandals during the Arroyo watch go, this one isn’t any more or less offensive to morals, good taste or plain decency than election fraud, the ZTE-NBN scandal, the P500,00 payoffs to congressmen in exchange for their support for charter change, the padding of the National Artists’ list with the names of Arroyo pets, etc.etc. It’s par for the course, and the question is why, despite being several times exposed, the Arroyo clique keeps doing things like this.

Unlike the meal Remonde and company enjoyed during their “working dinner” at Le Cirque, the answer is simple enough. The current ruling clique doesn’t care about public opinion, because it believes that it can do what it pleases no matter what the country’s laws and the Constitution, simple morality, or plain good taste say.

Neither does it particularly care about the Filipino people, especially the ones who’re slowly starving their way to an early grave in this earthly paradise. In that sense it’s just like Le Cirque: it doesn’t care about people unless they’re rich and powerful (we have to grant that Arroyo and company do care about what Barack Obama thinks). Except that the poor don’t even get a place at the table in the country of their despair. At Le Cirque they’ll at least give you a table by the kitchen door even if you’re nobody.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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