Fining dining comes with an inherent curse: when a restaurant receives countless accolades, one almost automatically places the establishment on a pedestal, assuming that everything will be perfect. I try to keep an open mind and recognize that, regardless of pedigree, any restaurant can have its faults on a given night. I have experienced this first hand many times, most recently this past winter while dining at Per Se in New York City. While the ambience and service were amazing, the food simply didn’t begin to live up to my expectations. This past Easter Sunday our party of four ventured to Sonoma County for some wine tasting… capped by our first dinner at Cyrus.
I knew going into this evening that we’d be somewhat testing the restaurant’s ability to accommodate. One of the members of our party not only has a seafood and shellfish allergy, but also has a number of food aversions (mushrooms, etc.) as well. I had received a confirmation call a few days prior, and I felt it appropriate to discuss this before our arrival. I was curious how flexible they could be, given that we A) wanted to enjoy the tasting menu and B) all members of the party had to participate. The host gave no indication that we’d have any issues.
As wine tasting was a bit of a bust (a lot of places were closed on Easter, though we did hunt out a few gems), we arrived at Cyrus bracing ourselves for a potential let down. As we arrived about 15 minutes early for our 6PM reservation, we grabbed a table in the bar to enjoy a cocktail. Our table was quickly prepared: we transferred to the dining room upon finishing our cocktails. The chef was informed of our party’s arrival, and we were quickly greeted with an assortment of canapés. Our captain then confirmed that we were still interested in doing the tasting menu and also consulted with our problematic diner about his dietary issues. Not only did she note the seafood/shellfish issue but she also was very clear that they could avoid certain elements if they weren’t to his liking. That laid out hope for what was to come. We finished the canapés… and then the Champagne and Caviar Cart came our way.
Three of us decided to be a bit decadent (also the 3 who decided to do the wine pairings) – after all, my grandfather’s Depression Era saying was ringing in my head “Eat up, honey, eat up: you’re out.” We splurged a bit and ordered champagne (2 ordered the Laurent Perrier “Cuvee Rose Brut,” while 2 ordered Krug “Grande Cuvee”) and a round of California Select caviar. The caviar was served with lightly fried grits cakes and was accompanied by crème fraiche and finely minced chives and egg yolk. It was fun to splurge on such items; however, truly, the cart presentation is really what made this worthwhile.
The amuse bouche was maguro sashimi (with now forgotten accompaniment) for the 3 of us: they substituted a sashimi of blood orange in place of the fish for our friend. A nice pop of flavor served elegantly on a curled silver spoon.
Now on to the rest of the menu…
- “Steak & Egss,” Wagyu Steak and Lobster Tartare with Horseradish Crème Fraiche, and Caviar.
This dish was absolutely delectable; served as 3 parts, described from right to left. The “steak & eggs” was a fried quail egg and a slice of raw wagyu over a bed of dressed micro arugula. The wagyu had the texture of fine toro sashimi; the quail egg’s yolk still runny and luscious. In the center were pieces of fried marrow surrounded with the horseradish crème fraiche and lobster reduction. Finally, the wagyu and lobster tartare, served inside of a bone (properly served with a marrow spoon), topped with a generous portion of Hackleback caviar. All the flavors were amazing. This was paired with the Jean Vesselle “Rose de Saignee” champagne. Lovely.
- Cauliflower with Raisin, Caper, and White Pepper Emulsion, Toasted Almonds
This was the non-seafood substitution for our friend – ironically, this had been one of the items on the regular menu that he really wanted to try. Perfect substitution. Thumbs up.
- Spring Pea Ragout with Baby Carrots and Pickled Ramps, Saffron Nage
- Spring Pea “Shooter” with Lavender Crème Fraiche
Quite possibly the best vegetable dish I’ve ever had. The spring peas were perfectly cooked and matched wonderfully with saffron. The resulting broth was absolutely heavenly. Frankly, because of how good the ragout was, the shooter was a bit lost and an after thought. It would have been lovely on its own, and I appreciate the dual methods of spring pea preparation; however, it just couldn’t compare. This was paired with the 2005 GrunerVeltliner, Nigl “Kremser Freiheit.” This pairing was controversial – 1 person didn’t particularly like the pairing, though I thought it worked quite nicely. Personal preference here, really.
- Chorizo Crusted Scallop, Mirepoix and Manilla Clams
Perhaps the best dish of the evening. The scallop was perfectly seared. I was a bit concerned that the intense flavor of the chorizo would overpower the scallop. This was absolutely not the case. With each bite I immediately tasted the freshness of the scallop – the chorizo was the finishing flavor. The broth for this was a.m.a.z.i.n.g.l.y good: without question, the readily replaced bread was a vehicle for this sauce. This was excellently paired with the Manzanilla Sherry “La Guita.” Honestly, one of the best pairings I’ve ever had (we all agreed on this): phenomenal and truly inspired.
- Hoisin Squab, Black Bean-Rice Cake and Candied Kumquats
Again, the seafood substitution. Although a bit undercooked for HIS preference (which he didn’t specify previously), it was perfectly cooked squab. I did get to try this and it was lovely; though, really, I would not have chosen this over the scallop.
- Frozen “Lollipops” of Hibiscus and Juniper
A quick refresher. Brought to the table standing upright in a glass rock filled vessel, these lollipops melted instantly when they hit the tongue. Quite tasty and innovative.
- Foie Gras with Braised Duck Cannelloni and Green Garlic, Moscato Sauce
Another “best ever” preparation. This foie preparation was truly fantastic. I appreciated the whimsical play on duck two-ways, and the flavors were intensely rich and earthy. The Moscato based sauce perfectly accented the foie; however, because of the intensity of the dish, it was paired very well with a 2005 Rochioli Pinot Noir. I do believe I was in the midst of a foodgasm at this point.
- Rabbit Loin with Spring Onions, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Stuffed Baby Artichoke and Sherry Jus
The bacon-wrapped baby artichoke very well may have been the best individual item I put in my mouth all evening. Absolutely incredible. The rabbit was cooked perfectly and all the ingredients complimented each other very well. Our problematic diner even had his dish modified – they removed the black trumpets and used an aged balsamic as a further flavor enhancer. This was paired with the 2005 Saint Josepth, Philippe Faury, “Vieilles Vignes”: possibly my favorite wine of the evening.
- Selection of Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses with complementing Breads and Fruits
Featuring 2 goat milk cheeses (one domestic, one French), a hard sheep’s milk, the Cowgirl Creamery’s SF Drake, an incredibly smooth triple cream, and a handmade Roquefort. The French goat and the triple cream were my favorite. Nick Peyton continued the cheese cart tradition at Cyrus… and I’m very, very glad that he did. I don’t have record of the wine that we had with this course as it was a last minute addition; however, we did switch back to white at this point (our choice).
- Sorrell “Sodi Pop” refresher
“Grassy” and sweet. The sweetened sorrel syrup was brought in a caddy and was fizzed tableside with an old-fashioned soda dispenser. I frankly could have seen myself sitting back on a warm day and enjoying a glass. Yum.
We were finally served with 2 desserts, which were ceremoniously served opposite one another:
- Mochi Rice Cake with Yamamomo Ice Cream
This was quite the interesting combination of flavors, textures, and colors. The cake was quite dense. The yamamono ice cream was vividly pink and creamy. The dish was accented with boba: tapioca pearls common to bubble tea. I have to say that I’m a bit of a boba snob – these didn’t QUITE live up to my quality standard, as they were a bit dense and not quite as flavorful as I’d like. I did appreciate the effort, however. This was paired with the 2005 Moscato D’Asti, La Spinetta “Bricco Quaglia.” It was a nice way to end the evening.
- Caramel Soup with Kettle Corn Sorbet and Chocolate Filigree
Thankfully my boyfriend let me try this. It was very, very good. I love chocolate, I love caramel, and I love popcorn. *sigh* This would have been my “standard” dessert order as it fits my normal desires. However, I was glad to try something outside my usual flavor comfort zone. The 1991 Colheita Port pairing was quite delicious.
We were presented with a collection of confections (herbed ice, chocolate ganache, champagne gelee, and marzipan) with our check. Upon payment, we also received customized print outs of the tasting menu (including the non-seafood substitutions) and packages of confections. The bill was roughly $325 per person (including tax and tip), except for our nondrinker.
The service was incredibly friendly, efficient, and professional. The only apparent lapses occurred around our table though not at: the space is rather small for the number of carts and services persons required. Though there seemed to be a few bobbles, we couldn’t have cared less given the attention we were provided.
As I said, I had a legitimate let-down at Per Se this past winter. This experience at Cyrus is what I expected from Per Se: high quality service and wonderful, memorable food. While I think the nod for service goes to the Thomas Keller affair (which truly was flawlessly orchestrated), the food at Cyrus was far more inventive and better executed. This trip to Cyrus will go down as the best fine dining experience I’ve ever had. Cyrus has become my top recommendation for Bay Area fine dining - Michelin 3 stars or not.