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Dining Destination: Cyrus

Wed Nov 22, 2006

Spend $300 on dinner for two? My mother would never approve. And while right now my budget doesn’t either, splurging on a meal that’s an event in itself is the kind of foodie indulgence we should all enjoy once in awhile. Top on my list of “dining destinations” is Cyrus, the year-old, San Francisco Chronicle four-star restaurant located on the bottom floor of the elegant Le Mars Hotel in downtown Healdsburg, California. Lauded in the new San Francisco Bay Area and Wine Country Michelin Guide (two stars), named one of the top 50 restaurants in America by Gourmet and led by Douglas Keane, one of Food+Wine‘s best new chefs, Cyrus has prominent epicures intoxicated. Well-publicized accolades aside, two excellent dining experiences at Market (Douglas Keane and partner Nick Peyton’s first restaurant in Saint Helena), a couple of first-person accounts and the mouthwatering menu descriptions on Cyrus’s website had me giddy and hungry. So, last month I scrounged my pennies together and whet my appetite at the bar, where menu items can be purchased à la carte.Guests are “coming to me for an experience,” Chef Keane told me in an interview last week. “My goal is to give them something they couldn’t create on their own at home. You’re paying a lot for this meal so almost every bite should pop: texture, acids, seasonings.”

Douglas Keane

Chef Douglas Keane in the kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide)

My first course, seared foie gras, did just that; each bite was a seamless explosion of flavor and texture. The slight layer of skin formed when searing the foie added the first layer of dimension to the warm and smooth liver. The small cake donut dusted with crumbled pistachio that accompanied it created a light and crunchy textural counterpoint. Spiced pears and cider sauce brought in subtle acid notes and a grounding hint of earthy spice, balancing the foie’s richness without being overpowering.My dining companion and I paired our foie gras (she had the Terrine with Plum-Ginger Compote and Toasted Brioche) with a half bottle of the of the 2002 Selbachh-Oster Riesling Kabinett “Zeltinger Schlossberg” from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, which had the right balance of sweetness, acidity and body to complement both preparations.For our second course, we shared the Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth and a Wagyu Strip Loin of Beef with Fingerling Potatoes and Short Rib Hash. The sweetly pungent truffle aroma encircled each delicate grain of risotto, while the Parmesan broth provided an undercurrent of salty sweetness. I was equally bowled over by the Wagyu beef, a rich, delicate cut of meat that seemed to dissolve in my mouth.While I was assured that the risotto is one dish that isn’t likely to disappear from the menu any time soon, the menus at Cyrus change gradually with the seasons. Some dishes might run for three weeks, says Keane, others might only make a cameo, designed around something special from one of his purveyors. But with summer’s late onset and abrupt ending this year, the menu recently underwent a quick revamp. Off came the tomatoes and squashes and on went the pumpkins and persimmons.

Why Sonoma County?
Having cooked at such high profile city restaurants as Lespinasse in New York and Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, it might be hard to imagine what brought Keane to the sleepy, northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg. “The cool part about wine country,” he says, “is that people come up to eat and drink.” In a city, he continues, dinner might just be another part of your evening; here, it is your evening. Combine the destination idea and Sonoma County’s storied produce and the “area kind of picked me.”But Cyrus isn’t just a Sonoma County restaurant—Douglas Keane endeavors to create a world-class experience, one that breaches the confines of place. He flies in much of his fish from the East Coast and Japan and has recently started buying some of his meat from Four Story Farms in Pennsylvania, which also supplies such famed chefs as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Charlie Trotter. “Sometimes we get grief for not pouring more Sonoma County wines,” he says, of which there are many. But a number of Chef Keane’s highly acidic dishes, particularly on his famed Tasting Menu, seem to pair better with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, a German Riesling, White Burgundy or sake.”Sometimes I laugh when I throw him [Sommelier Jim Rollston] a dish with strong acids and some heat and tell him to have fun with it, like ‘it’s all yours pal, my job’s done,'” he jokes. Rollston handles the challenges phenomenally, resulting in an extensive wine list with gems from all over the world, nearly 250 Sonoma area wines and a particularly impressive half-bottle selection.

Cyrus Dining Room

The dining room at Cyrus. (Photo courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide)

In the Dining Room
Dining at the bar was a great introduction to the exceptional level of service coordinated by partner and Maitre d’ Nick Peyton and the remarkable food at Cyrus, but it only made the desire to have the “full” experience even greater. Guests who opt to sup in the dining room are given the option of a three-course ($68), four-course ($80) or five-course ($92) prix fix menu. Additional courses can be added for $15 or diners can leave themselves in Chef Keane’s capable hands and luxuriate in the evening’s special Tasting Menu ($110). There’s a caviar and Champagne cart that I expect would elevate your experience to the level of sublime and, for those with a love affair with fromage, an extensive cheese tray. From the amuse bouche to the Mignardises (chocolates, candied fruits and petits fours) no detail of the dining experience is left out, making for a full and filling evening—one even my mother might approve of.

Cyrus Restaurant
29 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95488

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