Cyrus has an almost mythical draw for San Franciscans seeking fine dining. Located in the charming town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, about an hour and a half car ride from the City, a visit to this Michelin two star restaurant is a decadent treat that could make a weekend in Wine Country that much more special.
We’d been several years ago for a miraculous dining event. Since, Hegui has been fantasizing about it regularly. We decided to splurge last weekend: we arranged to spend the night nearby so we could take a late reservation and really enjoy ourselves.
Executive Chef and Co-owner Douglas Keane characterizes the Cyrus approach to food as “contemporary luxury,” and certainly that fits the bill. Hegui thought it seemed like “molecular gastronomy” as we started with an amuse bouche of five tiny “tastes” representing the five flavors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami or savoriness. Many of the dishes seem deconstructed then reconstructed, lending further strength to that interpretation.
Our reservation was at 8:30PM (I booked weeks ahead but this was the best time that I could find for a Saturday evening in early January). We arrived around eight to enjoy cocktails at the elegant bar and lounge that overlooks the quiet street. Cyrus makes a house Manhattan with orange peel infused bourbon. The drink is wonderfully aromatic and very smooth. H had his standard Hangar 1 dry martini. They dangled the olives cutely off the edge of his large martini glass in a dramatic and playful way. It was a great beginning.
Though the town is pretty dead at that time of night, you wouldn’t guess it from the large crowd in the dining room. The place was packed! We sat at an intimate table in the smaller of two adjoining rooms, towards the back of the restaurant. At first H was cross about our location as we missed the delightful views of the square pillars topped with graceful arches covered in holiday lights and the buzz of the throng, but I thought that it was just fine.
The menu is complex but boils down to a few choices. They offer an eight-course meal or a five-course one. The later is merely a simplified version of the former. Both options are also available as a vegetarian menu. You can mix and match between the menus, too. We went for the five-course mix and match. I added a cheese course as a sixth, just because I love cheese courses.
The wine menu was too intense. At 48 pages, I couldn’t handle it, especially as I was enjoying my house Manhattan to the fullest. We asked for help from the sommelier. After we told him that we liked reds, he suggested a light grenache from California. He offered a sample. Hegui wasn’t excited so we said no. I’d expected that he would have other suggestions but instead, he returned the wine tome and suggested that we reexamine it. That was really frustrating!! I’d already looked through the absurdly massive thing. Hegui said that I started to blush. Certainly it felt awkward. Finally H selected an inexpensive Chianti Classico, which we enjoyed. We declined the caviar and champagne.
So with the ordering out of the way, it was time to sit back and wait for the ride to begin. I’ve already mentioned the tasting amuse bouche. They had a second AB of some kind of fish sashimi.
Next they served lovely containers of glorious butter! One was from goat milk; the other, cow. We especially loved the first. It went so well with the tiny bread loaves that appeared at random times throughout the meal that we almost devoured the entire thing.
We started with soup. H had the Billi-Bi with tempura mussel, a kind of creamy broth with intense mussel flavor. I had the Sugar Pie pumpkin with chestnut and toasted pepitas. These were served with empty bowls that were filled from steaming silver pots at table. Lovely! Both soups were quite nice if somewhat traditional.
Next came the Nantucket Bay scallops with sweet potato-passion fruit pureé and turnips, poke; and the roasted beets with cashews and mandarins, black garlic pureé. I really enjoyed the scallops. I rarely order these and never make them at home, so this was a treat.
For the third course I had the Tasmanian Ocean trout with smoked soba noodles and Mitsuba, Ooling broth. Hegui had the Nakamura miso glazed tofu with parsnips, tat soi and pickled goji berry. I’ve no idea what was in his after the parsnips, but it tasted very nice. The trout reminded me a bit of a mild salmon in flavor, which I don’t especially care for. The fish was remarkable in that it was wrapped in a perfect single layer of soba noodles so it was a joy for the eyes.
We both had the celery root gnocchi with slow cooked egg and kale, red wine reduction. Hegui liked this dish quite a bit. He especially thought that the egg with kale was a classic. I despise celery so struggled.
I had no problem with the artisanal and farmhouse cheeses. We had a single order to share. It came with a selection of toasted breads, crackers, and some small fruit based sweets. We had a blue, a hard and a soft cheese. It was presented at table from a rolling cart covered with at least a dozen or more exciting cheeses from which to choose. Strangely, we weren’t given the choice after agreeing to the plate with three kinds. Our server selected these without further input. Is that normal?
We finished the meal with the espresso pot de crème, warm beignet, black cardamom and Meyer lemon; and the peanut butter gianduja with honeycomb parfait, with which neither of us could make much progress. They were, however, delicious.
Our server was relentless and offered mignardises or tiny sweets at the end, which he thoughtfully boxed for us to bring home.
Afterward they printed personalized souvenir menus and helped us into our winter coats by the door.
Overall this was a fine experience. There were some things that I struggled with at Cyrus. I’ve already mentioned the wine list and the unhelpful sommelier. I wasn’t that keen on all of the staff rushing around all the tables, bringing endless rounds of flatware and gleaming oversized white plates all the time, either. The Nineteenth Century is over and all of that extra cleaning doesn’t seem very environmentally conscious.
Finally, there is something about the food itself that wasn’t quite right. The menu is heavily influenced by Asian cuisine, which we both love. It also had a Southern American or perhaps comfort-food flair, plus there were clearly French and Italian influences, and so on. By trying to ambitiously show such a wide range of tastes, I felt a bit lost. Perhaps some refocusing would help? And don’t get me started on the number of foams that floated atop so many of my dishes!
That said, Cyrus is an experience that is well worth your time and expense. But make a reservation well before you want to go.