Cyrus, Healdsburg

by Stevie on January 18, 2011

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Cyrus

Cyrus

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.

welcome to Cyrus

welcome to Cyrus

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.

I'm so excited about Cyrus that I even wore a tie!

I'm so excited about Cyrus that I even wore a tie!

the Cyrus house Manhattan is extra special and aromatic from fresh orange peel

the Cyrus house Manhattan is extra special and aromatic from fresh orange peel

look how cute the green olives look dangling from the rim of the Cyrus Kettle 1 vodka martini!!

look how cute the green olives look dangling from the rim of the Cyrus Kettle 1 vodka martini!!

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.

our amuse bouche to explore the five tastes salty, sweet, bitter,  sour and umami

our amuse bouche to explore the five tastes salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami

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.

Cyrus is magical!  They offer not one but two kinds of butter!!

Cyrus is magical! They offer not one but two kinds of butter!!


mini seed bread and sourdough epi

mini seed bread and sourdough epi

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.

Billi-Bi soup with tempura mussel

Billi-Bi soup with tempura mussel


sugar pie pumpkin soup with chestnut and toasted pepitas

sugar pie pumpkin soup with chestnut and toasted pepitas

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.

Nantucket Bay scallops with sweet potato-passion fruit puree and turnips, poke

Nantucket Bay scallops with sweet potato-passion fruit puree and turnips, poke

roasted beets with cashews and mandarins, black garlic puree

roasted beets with cashews and mandarins, black garlic puree

tiny olive pastry

tiny olive pastry


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.

Tasmanian ocean trout with smoked soba noodles and mitsuba, oolong broth

Tasmanian ocean trout with smoked soba noodles and mitsuba, oolong broth

Nakamura Miso glazed tofu with parsnips, tat soi and pickled goji berry

Nakamura Miso glazed tofu with parsnips, tat soi and pickled goji berry


celery root gnocchi with slow cooked egg and kale, red wine reduction

celery root gnocchi with slow cooked egg and kale, red wine reduction

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.

artisanal and farmhouse cheeses

artisanal and farmhouse cheeses


espresso pot de crème, warm bignet, black cardamom and Meyer lemon

espresso pot de crème, warm bignet, black cardamom and Meyer lemon


peanut butter gianduja with honeycomb parfait

peanut butter gianduja with honeycomb parfait

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.

mignardises in charming to-go boxes

mignardises in charming to-go boxes

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon January 18, 2011 at 4:07 am

Amazing restaurant! I scrolled up and down a hundred times trying to decide which food I liked the best but I couldn’t. I love it all! Such amazing presentation too. I liked the trout wrapped in soba noodles, thought that was quite creative. What a wonderful feast you had! What’s the difference between the two butters? Which was better, the yellow or white one? I can see what you mean by oversized white plates. It seems to me the more expensive a restaurant, the bigger the plates and the smaller the food portions.

Shelley January 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Love this post – it takes me back. My husband and I visited Cyrus when we were last in Sonoma in 2008. I’m surprised to hear of the molecular turn of the menu. I don’t remember such back in 2008 but that was before the molecular craze hit so maybe they’re just trying to stay current. While we did enjoy our meal, I have to agree with you on some of your points. I, too, thought the service too fussy. Especially for California. Reminded me of some of the old Grande Dame restaurants in New Orleans but I expect such there and it seems more fitting since NO is an old town with a long tradition. Wasn’t that butter fabulous? I actually have a post on my blog about a butter course- inspired by Cyrus! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the lovely pics of your meal!

Stevie January 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Sharon

I think that the white looking butter is goat or perhaps sheep and the yellow, cow. We liked the white one better as it seemed lighter and had more of a grassy and complex flavor. Thanks for your comment.

Stevie January 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm

That’s cool that you’ve been to Cyrus. I have been to New Orleans several times. Once we ate at Commander’s Palace. I know that that city offers a lot in the fine dining arena. In the past while I’ve been there I’ve stuck to lots of oysters, French pastries and beignets.

Sharon January 19, 2011 at 3:32 am

I’ve never had goat/sheep butter before, I reckon I should try it, it sounds good! As long as it doesn’t taste too much like goat’s milk – much too strong a taste for my liking.

Sabrina Modelle January 19, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I love your review of Cyrus. I feel like I was right there with you. Your photos are lovely and while I might struggle to guess which dish sounds most appealing- perhaps the scallop with passion fruit? I do know I could fall into a vat of artisan cheeses and goat’s milk anything- especially butter.

Suma January 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Thanks for the Cyrus review- update! Your pictures are amazing. That Scallop dish looks to die for. I still would love to have the chance to go back and visit!

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