Just got back from a weekend in the Russian River Valley. I had asked hounds for some advice about Cyrus alternatives, and thought I'd report back on our final experience.
We ended up only having six people in our party, so my issue of trying to decide how to handle having seven guests was moot. And after our dinner, I think I understand why Cyrus has such a strict six person maximum. Each course is brought out by one server per person. They parade out of the kitchen on one line and the food is artfully swooped down in front of each diner at the exact same time. Sure, they could squeeze one more person at the table, but it would really throw off the artful cadence of service. Some of the amuses and desserts were also brought to the table in serviceware that is designed for six, so an extra person would present some problems. They require that parties larger than six use their private room, which seats 12 and is subject to a $2000 minimum.
All in all, everyone had a great time. I was a little worried that it would be too stuffy or too cerebral for my parents, who've never experienced a tasting menu and in general prefer Asian cuisine. However, the mood of the place and the servers was relaxed, cheerful, and perfectly conducive to chatting and laughing. And they not only liked the food, they said they felt the ingredients, flavors, and sauces were universal enough that they felt most of their peers would enjoy it as well.
General comments on food: Cyrus does an amazing job with its savory courses. I have only been to the Ritz Carlton Dining Room and Fleur de Lys in SF, but Cyrus easily beats both while not being more expensive. The foie gras torchon, especially, was probably the best I've tasted. The desserts, however, didn't shine as brightly as the savory courses. I would say the Ritz has the edge for making both creative and classic French desserts that not only taste good individually, but complement each other and flow well from one to the next. However, I really loved the cheese course at Cyrus and appreciated that it was included as part of the meal and not an add on.
General comments on the drinks: I love that they use Seltzer Sisters seltzer water so the non drinkers could have things like fresh passion fruit spritzers instead of plain juice. The cocktails were also delicious and beautiful. The mai tai, which isn't on the menu, was my favorite and came topped with balsamic strawberries. The wine pairing was well done. I thought the use of sake for the first course (a cucumber gelee) was especially creative, though in general the wines complemented rather than outshone the food--smart, I thought. The after dinner tea was a huge disappointment. Low quality tea in lukewarm water (or maybe it was the water that made the tea taste low quality). I told my sisters they should ask the kitchen for hot water, but no one wanted to bother.
General comments on service: seamless. the cadence of the meal is really spot on. The kitchen knew exactly when we needed longer breaks between courses, when a palate cleansing amuse would be appreciated, and so on. My sister noted that the foie gras course came earlier in the meal, which meant everyone was able to really enjoy it.
We were there for a good four hours. I wouldn't say the time flew by, but it was an enjoyable meal all the way through and didn't feel like four hours. I didn't see the bill, but I think it was about $1500 for the six of us (not everyone drank) and everyone left very happy. What I'm trying to say is that even though Cyrus isn't a "family restaurant" it is perfectly possible for a largish group to enjoy both the food and each other's company without sacrificing either. Concerns that a more casual place might be more conducive to family bonding weren't an issue. But my family loves to eat, so bonding over food is nothing new.
One word of advice to anyone who's thinking about opening a restaurant that serves a nine course tasting menu: I think all guests would really love any kind of a place to take a walk! By about halfway through we were all wishing for a ten minute walk. I think a little herb and vegetable garden, or even a room made into a mini gallery of local art, would be really interesting. I know, it's a space issue, but a girl can dream!
For photos and a play-by-play: http://www.chezpei.com/2008/06/cyrus-...