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All right, people. I have heard your desperate pleas for my opinion on Cyrus. I have to confess, I almost decided not to post it after such a delay, but I feel better knowing that at least one other blogger out there is still catching up from President’s Day. And anyway, I did manage to scribble down my impressions on the bleary morning after, so why waste the effort?

My other hesitation in posting is that, despite or perhaps because of the amount of fawning praise I’ve read about it, I just wasn’t over-the-moon about the place. I mean, don’t get me wrong; it was good. Very good even. There were some things I really adored. But the whole was felt a little less than the sum of its parts. I think that had we not done this so relatively close on the heels of a life-changing meal like Alinea, I might have felt differently.

Nearly every thing they did well was mildly blemished, sort of a wabi-sabi approach, as if perfection would be an affront to the fine dining gods. As with another recent diner, they were very accommodating of dietary restriction, in this case DPaul’s wheat problem … with one little oopsie (read on). The service was professional yet warm and affable, but we ended up with a less than stellar table (why my reservation was inferior to others, I’m still not clear) with a lot of traffic, causing the back of my head to be brushed with every passing server.

Now the bar, that’s another matter. We specifically arrived early to have the opportunity to sit at the bar and sample one of mixologist Scott Beattie‘s world-famous concoctions, and we were not disappointed. DPaul predictably went right for the bourbon with the Frankfort Manhattan, featuring vanilla- and citrus-infused Buffalo Trace bourbon, which has since become our house bourbon. I, in turn, tried the Pelo del Perro, a palate-tickling affair of Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka, Chinaco Silver tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave nectar, grapefruit foam and a red-salt rim. The garnish were three minuscule rosemary blossoms floating on top, each a tiny explosion of woodsy bouquet. Perfect.

Though we both partook of the 7-course chef’s tasting menu, DPaul’s was
obviously  occasionally different due to the absence of wheat. Also, we
opted for different wine pairings to mix things up; I took the standard pairing, and DPaul selected the Grand Tasting pairing, customized to
highlight the chef’s tastng menu … at approximately twice the price.
Worth the differential? Sometimes.

We both agreed that it would be delightful to return and enjoy a meal in the bar area with some excellent cocktails. So, a happy ending by and by.

After the jump, the blow-by-blow description of our meal.

Cyrus chef’s tasting menu
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My courses and pairings are aligned left; DPaul’s (when different) aligned right. Courses in plain text; beverage pairings in italics.

Five separate itty-bitty spoonfuls or crisps arranged on a three-tier dish; each is meant to convey a particular flavor: Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami. Each was delicious, and certainly highlighted its particular flavor well. The bitter spoonful, for example, burst with grapefruit and Campari. But somehow what stuck with me most was that each silver dish on the tray had a divot for each spoon resting there — four on the top, yet only one on the second as DPaul received on a spoon what I got on a wheat-based crisp for one canapé. I am easily impressed and amused by specialized service ware.

Caviar course:
California Select White Sturgeon Caviar
Charbay Clear Vodka 100 ml
So when they park a big old cart of caviar and champagne next to your table and leave it there, of course you’re going to order, aren’t you? Yes, you are. The offerings included an intriguing paddlefish roe from Tennessee and a few varieties of oscetra. I’ve had oscetra, beluga and sevruga, so I didn’t feel the urge to order something flown halfway across the planet derived from an endangered species. We opted for the locavore option — white sturgeon caviar farmed in the Delta, accompanied by top-notch Napa-based Charbay vodka. The caviar had an amazingly soft palate and texture, mildly nutty and not nearly as fishy or salty as so many other caviars. The ounce of roe sat in a moderne-styled dish kind of resembling the central building in LAX, alongside silver dishes with typical accompaniments: crème fraîche, finely sieved hard-boiled egg and minced chives. As a base, potato and grit cakes were presented. It was only after we wolfed down the cakes that DPaul wondered aloud what was in the potato cake batter. In retrospect, of course the potato cakes were made with flour and both versions were clearly dredged in panko. Oops! Guess the caviar service sits just outside the jurisdiction of the chef when it comes to managing dietary restrictions. Luckily, DPaul’s wheat aversion is hardly life-threatening. More troubling, though, was that the caviar itself was so mild that it couldn’t stand up even to the comparatively bland accompaniments of potato, cream and egg. It really was best eaten on its own.

Cream of green garlic soup with green garlic oil and whipped goat cheese
A porcelain demi-tasse of frothy white soup with a few brilliantly verdant drops of oil floating on top; alongside a silver spoon held a fluffy white quenelle. Although intensely rich (we detected butter and parmigiano as well as the expected goat cheese and cream), this was a beautifully seasonal start, a perfect taste of the promise of spring to come.

First course
Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche with Pickled Daikon and Sweet Potato
Riesling, Domaine Ostertag "Vignoble d’E," Alsace, France, 2006

Thai Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Mango and Hearts of Palm
Riesling, Brünlmayer "Zöbinger Heiligenstein Alte Reben, Kamptal, Austria, 2002

In an ironic twist navigating around the wheat-free waters, they managed to produce a dish that hit on almost all of DPaul’s hot buttons. He has a dislike of lobster, isn’t crazy about avocado when it’s not made into guacamole, and to make matters worse it was drizzled with a sauce made for all I could tell entirely of cilantro, perhaps his most intense aversion. Yet, the net result worked. The lobster was mild, and the cilantro sauce was subtle enough that he actually had to ask me what it was made of; normally he can taste cilantro in infinitesimal quantities. A success.

My ceviche was inflected with Asian flavors — rice wine vinegar, perhaps the faintest hint of sesame oil. A very refreshing take on what has rapidly become a tired and uninspired dish on menus everywhere.

The wines were, as would become a theme throughout the meal, similar but not equal. Both were light, crisp and flinty, but DPaul’s had a lingering finish and gentle tropical notes, whereas mine tickled the palate up front, but left little after.

Second course
Foie Gras Two Ways: Terrine en Croute; Frisee aux Lardons, Quail Egg Bulls Eye
Riesling Kabinett, Schmitt-Wagner "Longuicher Maxminer Herrenberg," Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, 2005

Seared Foie Gras with Turmeric Emulsion
Marcel Deiss "Grasberg," Alsace, France, 2002

Oh, the inevitable foie course. I’ve had some great foie in my life, notably at The French Laundry but even at more humble locations such as Chez Spencer. Cyrus’s certainly ranks. I have to say, this was one course where DPaul kinda missed out. Whereas he got a nice little hunk of seared foie atop a small vegetable compote alongside a roasted baby carrot and a turmeric foam, perfectly delightful, I got both a terrine flanked in génoise with wee cubes of some kind of sweet-tart gelatin and a seared mini-lobe atop a pert little piece of griddled brioche with a quail egg served in the middle, eggs-in-a-hole style; the cutaway part of brioche was in turn cut down to make wee croutons. The richness of the quail egg yolk on the foie was heavenly. Similarly, the terrine against the gelatin cubes was excellent, but I found the génoise to be rather dense.

The wines this time were somewhat more robust, offering a hint of sweetness, but still overall crisp and mineral. And par for the course, DPaul’s pairing was noticeably more refined and complex, though I had no complaints about my Mosel.

Third course
Ikejime Tai, Smoked Soba Noodles and Crab, Oolong Tea Broth
Takasago "Morning Glow," Tokubetsu Junmai Sake, Hokkaido, Japan

Black Bass with Leeks and Artichokes, Bay Leaf Nage
Puligny-Montrachet "1er Cru Clos de la Garenne," Paul Pernot, Burgundy, France, 2006

Similar preparations here, both dainty pieces of fine, white-fleshed fish seared crispy on the skin. I absolutely loved the tea broth, and think they could have easily achieved equivalent effect on this dish by using 100% buckwheat soba to make it wheat-free. I didn’t try DPaul’s bass, but had a taste of the artichoke (another thing of which he is not a fan), and it was utterly perfect.

Both the wine and sake were the lightest pairings of the evening; both practically nonexistent. Frankly, I preferred the sake, as I think did DPaul. It certainly didn’t interfere with any flavors in the dish, and had a lightly mouth-coating texture that erased the palate with each sip.

Fourth course
Chicken and Dumplings
Pinot Noir, WesMar "Balletto Vineyard," Sonoma Coast, 2005

Pinot Noir, Williams Selyem, Russian River Valley, 2006

Or, in DPaul’s case, chicken and no dumplings. The chicken was a roulade of breast meat wrapped around some sort of mixture — I believe there were leeks — and cooked sous vide. Gotta love that silky sous vide texture! Frankly, I don’t think DPaul missed out on much with the dumplings, wee little gnocchetti. I found them oversalted and a tad gummy. The Russian River pinots were both excellent expressions of their appellation, though: bright, earthy and just acidic enough to make them food-friendly.

Fifth course
Strip Loin of Beef and Braised Cheek with Cauliflower Risotto, Bordelaise
Gattinara, Antoniolo "Vigneto Castelle," Piedmont, Italy, 2001

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Pégau, Southern Rhône, France, 2004

Here we had two contrasting preparations of wagyu beef. On one side, a diminutive die of American wagyu beef cheek braised in Bordeau sat atop risotto; on the other, a same-sized bit of Japanese wagyu loin rested on a cauliflower purée. A stripe of bordelaise formed a dividing line between them. Both preparations were excellent. DPaul preferred the fall-apart braised cheek, and I liked the almost waxy texture of the Japanese loin. But by this point we were groaningly full. DPaul took one taste of each piece of beef, and had the rest — totalling maybe 1/8 oz. — wrapped up.

DPaul’s Domaine de Pégau could not have been more perfectly French: Deep, earthy to the point of barnyardy, hugely complex and neverending in its finish. But fan as I am of Italian wines, and of Piemontese in particular, I had no complaint about my pairing. Though, as it was a brighter wine, I wonder how much our pairings influenced which beef preparation we each preferred.

Sixth course
A Selection of Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses with Breads and Fruits
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Caillou, Southern Rhône, France, 2003

Rioja Gran Riserva, R. Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia," Spain, 1987

The idea of eating anything more at this point was ludicrous, yet here we were, presented with a phenomenal cheese cart and an accommodating waiter eager to tantalize our palates with a constellation of fromage. In the end he laid out some seven cheeses, including a fiercely pungent cabrales, a lusciously seductive triple-crème, a truffled pecorino, a couple of exceptional goat cheese and the highlight, a Portuguese cheese of which is served only the creamy interior of the wheel. We dutifully tasted them all — and continued to enjoy them as a spectacular cheese plate for lunch the next day. As counterparts, there was a thin slab of panforte, some candied nuts, deliciously rich dates and bread/rice crackers. The wines? Sure, yeah, they were good. I think.

Seventh course
Green Cardamom Ice Cream with Pineapple-Yuzu Granite, Ginger, Honey Moscato
Blood Orange Soufflé with Champagne Anglaise, Chocolate Cheesecake
Caramel Pot de Crème with Bavarian
Scheurebe Spätlese, Müller Catoir "Haardter Burgergarten," Pfalz, Germany, 2004
Pedro Ximenez, Bodegas Toro Albalà, Gran Riserva, Montilla-Moriles, 1971

Sauternes, Château d’Yquem, Bordeaux, France, 1995

Dessert didn’t delight as much as I would have liked. Of course no small part of that was that we were stuffed to the gills, bursting out of our suits like split sausages. But even so, I just wasn’t in love. The pot de créme had a delightful texture and creaminess, but lackluster caramel flavor. The soufflé, well, you already know how I feel about orange, but you maybe didn’t know I also don’t love soufflé, so that was a tough sell. The ice cream was just fine.

But oh, the wines. They made up for it all. Of course DPaul’s Château d’Yquem shone as the superstar dessert wine it always is, but hey, I’ve had Ms. d’Yquem before. My two — yes two — pairings brought something different to the party. The German one, which surely I cannot pronounce and therefore will not deign even to utter or even retype its name, brought citrusy sunshine and light, like a wildflower-scented breeze on a summer’s day. The Spanish wine, ruby red and tinged with tawny edges, shot me right back to Andalucia with the first sip. Honeyed and syrupy, I could have bathed in the stuff.

And then …
Of course, just as there were three courses before the first course, the cavalcade of hedonism continue after the official last course. Yet another cart found its way beside our table, towering with candies and confections, truffles and nougats and lollipops. And they all came home with us.  And as a final lagniappe as we staggered, tipsy and bloated, out the front door, our waiter handed us one more adorable box, containing housemade brownies, one flourless, both sealed in cellophane with a sticker stamped "Tomorrow." Gotta give ’em props for killing us with kindness, and kill us they nearly did.

29 North St, Healdsburg, CA

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I can’t *imagine* why this took you a month to write 😉
    (It certainly puts our President’s Day festivities to shame…)

  2. Dang. I wish your meal had rocked as hard as ours did. Maybe it was the evening? Or maybe I was simply in the mood to be rocked. I’m glad you enjoyed it, though.

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful blog. After reading this review, I decided to cancel my reservations. We found someplace closer to home, in Mill Valley, El Paseo.

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