Cyrus (Healdsburg) - Report
Alright we finally found an occassion that merited a trip to Cyrus (anniversary)... and we got out there last night. Overall, its at a whole other level compared to the John Ash & Graffiti's of the world (I haven't been to French Laundry yet)... but it has its Pros AND its Cons.
First, lets start with the food. We both had the tasting menu (7 courses for $120); I ordered the Grand Wine Pairing ($185) [you could also get a cheaper 7 course pairing for $85]... and the wife ordered the ONLY Sonoma County wine by the glass... she of course shared in my flight. (more on the wine disappointment later).
> Canapes... these were very nice & tasty. One was a rift on Mexican Empanadas the other was simply roasted tomato in pastry. Both nice, neither memorable.
> Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Hirame & Basil. Not a gazpacho at all... maybe a cross between a Deconstructed Gazpacho & a seafood cocktail. It was a clear cucumber "broth"... with a Hirame sashimi wrapped around a cherry tomato. The flavors varied from resort spa water to very subtle Thai lemon grass soup. It was refreshing, tasty and fit what we tend to think of as creative Calfornia cuisine.
This was paired with the Francois Cotat - Culs de Beaujeu - Sancerre 2004. It was an okay French style wine, well structured with good silky texture but plain, minerality that would be nice with a Chicken Kiev but completely mismatched to a dish of this delicacy. The table next to ours were some recognized wine people... and they were served (with a different dish) a Sake that they kept raving about... causing the Sommelier to explain how small batch Sakes were really taking off etc., THAT is something I wish I could have tried with this dish.
> Seared Foie Gras wtih Hazelnut Crusted Doughnut, Apples and Cinnamon. This was very nice... carmelized exterior, buttery interior, excellent doughnut, sauteed apples.. heavenly for three bites thats when my tongue instinctively begged for a mouthful of some sharp, gamey Chevre.... and I realized the dish - while well executed - was unbalanced and a surprising misstep for a chef of this caliber.
Paired with Heidi Shrock - Furmint Sauvignon Blanc - Ruster Ausbruch 2001. A sweet Austrian wine with flavors that reminded me of nail polish remover. It of course only added to the sweetness of the Foie Gras... a terrible pairing imo (but maybe with the Chevre.... )
> Langoustine with Sweet Corn, Mussel-Saffron Sauce. This was one of our favorites... perfectly cooked, tender, light helped us recover from the overly sweet Foie Grass. The sauce was really a foam that really evoked a coconut curry. Very nice.
Paired with the Guy Amiot - 1er Cru Maltroie - Chassagne-Montrachet 2004. Again the insistence on pairing such delicate Thai-ish flavors with such a plain French wine seemed wrong... and was not particularly enjoyable.
> Cyrus BLT (Pork Belly, Pancetta, Heirloom Tomato, stroke of aioli) This was one of our favorites... the pork belly was succulent & carmelized with some kind of red wine reduction.
Paired with the Williams Selyem - Bucher Vineyard- Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River valley). The wine selection really started getting better here. It was well structured, luscious wine with very nice black cherry that melded perfectly with the "BLT".
> Rib Eye of imported Japanese Wagyu beef with Bamboo Rice, Matsutakes & Ponzu Sauce. The beef...all 1 ounces of it... was wonderful. The rice was a disaster however it incorporated preserved limes & lime oil... and was way too bitter and clashed with the red wine pairing.
Paired with Gaja - Pieve Santa Restituta Rennina - Brunello di Montalcino 2001 (Tuscany). A very nice red that seemed very similar to the previous Pinot Noir.... structure, luscious, less black cherry, a bit more tannin.
> Cheese Cart (French style service). Unfortunately the cheese monger read us incorrectly because he ended up selecting mostly young cheeses and we prefer aged... but it was still very nice. I can't remember all the cheeses... half were European, half were American (Indiana, Washington and a single local cheese). Our favorites were a French double creme Camembert, a Portugese "spread in cheese cloth", and the Indiana manchego like cheese that was wrapped in Grape leaves.
Paired with Alta Gracia - Eisle Vineyard - Araujo 2004 (Napa). Another nice red. However, I don't understand the insistence of red wines with cheese.... the pairing just doesn't do much for me.
> Chocolate Egg Cream with Chocolate-Hazelnut cookies. (Complimentary for special occassions). The cookies were great, the egg cream was like ovaltine... they do something with a balloon and a hookah looking device to blow sprinkles over the cookies. I thought they were about to bust into a choreographed number as well.
> Green Cardomom Ice Cream with Lychee Granite, Chilled Rose Soup. Nice & refreshing. The ice cream was a perfect, silky texture. Not particularly memorable.
Paired with Chateau D'Yquem Sauternes 1997 (Bordeaux). An okay dessert wine... also had a bit of that nail polish remover essence. I don't think the sommelier has ever heard of the virtues of a nice Moscato.
> Mignardises (Basically assorted, homemade candies with French Style Service). They had a spicy Raspberry-Guava sugared jelly... that is as much as I had to hear... wonderful, I let the wife choose the other 5 as she didn't eat much of the previous dessert. I enjoyed mine a cup of extremely fresh tasting, smokey black coffee.
> For breakfast this morning I had two exceptionally dark brownies the pack for you in a cute little box.
That was the food... now the PROS & CONS:
> Ambience.... very disappointing at this price range. A very plain dining room with a borning scheme of beige walls, black accents & drapes that look like one of those bad 1980's wedding dresses. Music was mostly 1950's style swing & bastardized jazz... its almost like Holidays in department stores.
> Service.... started out poorly. The first guy was aggressively trying to get us to purchase something from the Champagne & Caviar cart... I was slightly tempted than decided it was worthless since they don't do anything to either... I would rather buy it myself & have it in my backyard. Then the various team members were very uptight & snobby... insisting on delivering their rants on what was special about each wine etc., independent of whether we were interested or not.
BUT... then to their credit... and this was impressive. They started to read us and adapt to our style. It became a lot more casual & relaxed... and the few times I had questions about something they politely & honestly responded to them without going into their scripts.
As the evening continued... I noticed the amazing choreography in the team. At some point we almost thought they had a microphone near the table because they would perfectly anticipate our wants. The was truly decadent, attentive, courteous service.
The one thing that I would advise is that the food naturally comes very quickly. If you ask them to slow it down... they seemed perfectly happy to do it. Although it seemed to throw their rhythm slightly off.
> Identity. This is Cyrus' main weakness in my opinion. I feel the place is kind of in no man's land. Its not casual & relaxed like other favorite upscale California restaurants... its very uptight & French like.. but at the same time it doesn't go all the way. There is no dress code so the dining room was fool of a bunch of geeky looking, middle age people that really undercut any glamour. Had they insisted on a more strict dress code, had better music... and brought steam towels etc., it would have been more congrous.
My other issue with Cyrus is that it is not very Sonoma County. The wine list was unabashedly anti Sonoma County. While I REALLY appreciate that they didn't try to BRAND the ingredients... like some less classy restaurants that feel compelled to tell about each & every special local ingredient... I would have like if they said once... we use sustainable, local produce whenever possible or something like. With the bad foreign wine list, snubbing of local cheeses & no mention of local ingredients it creates the feeling that they don't really care to use any of them.
> Food. Everything was impeccably executed... but conceptually some dishes just weren't balanced. The food was great but not any better than my Calfornia cuisine benchmark (Joe's in Venice which provides a 7 course tasting menu for $55). With that said I really appreciated the Asian accents to the food... because they did deliver a credible California Cuisine experience unlike other Bay Area restaurants that are content with plagiurizing French & Italian dishes and simply adding a few locally ingredients.
> Presentation... I really like their presentation style. It was earthy & simple not too molded or high. Some modern elements with a few foams & jellies etc., (enough to get Michelin starred) but not really the essence of the style.
Our final bill was $585 with Tax & Tip... and I feel it could have easily been $1000 if we would have gone with the Champagne & Caviar so this place is not cheap.
Would we go again? Absolutely.... its a very decadent, 1st rate experience.... and I am sure we will make it our go to special occassion restaurant (the wife made the reservation 2 weeks in advanced & only the 7 PM time slight was already filled... so really no hassle as compared to that other place in Yountville).
However, when we asked ourselves... money & distance is absolutely no issue... if we had to choose between Joe's & Cyrus... we would choose Joe's 9 out of 10 times... unless its a real special occassion. So if you prefer really prefer a more casual take on fine dining... Cyrus isn't going to be on the regular rotation.
About the wine pairings: Ch. Y'Quem is made partly with Sauvignon Blanc, and is widely regarded as one of the best wines in the world; 1997 was a good vintage, neither great or middling. If you think both the Y'Quem and the other Sauvignon Blanc smell of nail polish remover, perhaps Sauvignon Blanc is just not your varietal. Many restaurants charging that price for a wine pairing don't have it set in stone, so if you give them feedback about what you liked or disliked in a wine early in the meal you have a chance of getting better pairings for your personal chemistry and preferences toward the end of the meal.
It's good to see that you're taking this as a learning experience. Regardless of accolades, wine preferences are incredibly subjective. It would behoove you to take this experience, and those you've had in the past, and openly discuss your likes/dislikes with the restaurant's sommelier (as suggested by SteveG). In the case of Cyrus, I'm sure he would have been more than happy to work with you.
Just curious about your comment that the wine list decidely "anti Sonoma" There are more than two hundred selections from Sonoma County on Cyrus' current list, a number of verticals, many or most of the best producers represented etc. Indeed, I can think of no other restaurant in Sonoma County with a deeper list of Sonoma wines. Are you taking exception to the rest of their list?
re: Sam B
Well leafing through the wine menu... it seemed that Sonoma County wines were after thoughts... each page had 5 different regional sections of which California only comprised one...
If they served straight up European cuisine I probably would not have been surprised... but given the Asian (particularly Japanese & Thai) focus on the current menu... it seems quite mismatched to see so many French wines in particular.
With a wine list of over 1000 selections and sonoma county being over 20 percent of those selections I think that is more than enough dedication to the sonoma region. The wine list is 40+ pages long and 14 pages are dedicated to california and 80% of those 14 pages is dedicated to sonoma county. Just looking through the Cabernet and Meritage based wines they could have chosen to go with a plethora of Napa producers but instead have chosen some very well known and small unknown Sonoma County producers. I guarantee no one in California has as much depth of Sonoma County wines as Cyrus does. Just look at the Red Zinfandel section it is pretty much all Russian River Valley producers.
In note to their Japanese and Thai accented cuisine the Loire Valley Chenin Blancs (especially the wines of Vouvray) are perfect matches for dishes of that style. Not to mention Alsatian wines and their wonderful selection of German rieslings. Their list has exceptional depth and is a great representation of wine from all over the world not just Sonoma County
Well maybe they can re-arrange their wine list so that its not so cumbersome & boring to browse through... and I would have found this gold mine of local wines.
Bottom line the tasting menu had 6 FOREIGN WINES & a SINGLE local wine... that is just embarrassing.
1) People come to Sonoma County... overwhelmingly for the wineries NOT for Cyrus it AINT that good. I wouldn't travel to say Oregon for a place like Cyrus.
2) The worst part is the pairings just didn't work. Maybe the Alsatian or German wines you mention (and no I am no biggot against Euro wines... I tend to use alot of Rieslings, Albarinos & Gewurtz to pair with Mexican food at home)... but the fact is that they choose Bordeux & Burgundy and others that DID NOT work with the food they put out.
Although I support your right to express your disappointment with the wine list/pairings, for accuracy's sake, according to your listing you got two local wines (or at least, two nonforeign wines: "Beef ... Paired with the Williams Selyem - Bucher Vineyard- Pinot Noir 2005 (Russian River valley). Cheese course ... Paired with Alta Gracia - Eisle Vineyard - Araujo 2004 (Napa)").
I want to reiterate, because I'm not sure I was clear, that for $185 the wine pairings should have knocked your socks off, and if they didn't, you are perfectly justified in complaining. Ideally, for that price they would have offered you options, i.e. "We're suggesting pairing Wine A, Wine B or Wine C with that course, do you have a preferrence?"
Very interesting review. I had a similar end result, where I was pleased with the meal, but not blown away, but got there via a completely different route.
My husband and I did the regular wine pairing, also with the tasting menu. Our first course (the gazpacho) was served with sake, which I actually refused, not being a fan of sake. They brought me a NZ Sauvignon Blanc instead, which was ok, but nothing to write home about. My husband, who did have the sake, said the pairing with the soup was spectacular. This course, btw, was amazing. It was my second favorite of the whole meal. It was so light with really distinct and well thought out flavors that just came together beautifully. It showed great balance and control.
Like Eat Nopal, I found the next course, the foie gras dish, unbalanced. It was a little too sweet and heavy. I think the chef here is very talented, but clearly has more of a taste for sweets than I do -- it was a theme that kept popping up throughout the menu that I didn't particularly enjoy. The wine with this course, a sweet Hungarian Tokai was delicious.
My favorite course was the langoustine. Wow. It was really spectacular - clean crisp flavors with just a hint of sweetness. It was perfectly paired with a 1er Cru Meursault, which was also divine. The corn, the langoustine, the burgundy -- oh my. I wish my whole meal had been this dish!
Our porkbelly was paired with a Poggione Brunello 2001. This wine was also fantastic -- great vintage, all earth with leather and spice and a hint of cherry. The porkbelly was just ok. Again, too sweet and rich.
The wagyu was also pretty good (I enjoyed the rice too), paired with a Leo Steen Syrah (Sonoma) Again, a great pairing. A little bit of cedar and smoke and a lot of fruit went perfectly with the dish.
The cheese was served with a steely off-dry loire valley chenin blanc. Fabulous wine, ok cheeses. I would have preferred more local cheeses.
I honestly don't remember the dessert course at all, except that we had an Austrian Eiswein, made from Gruner Veltliner. I had never tasted eiswein before, so this was a new experience for me, which I really enjoyed. It was basically all the wonderful grassy and peppery flavors you usually find in GV, with some sweetness layered over it. Very nice.
After tasting about 100 Sonoma wines during my visit this weekend, I was actually pretty relieved that we only had one Sonoma wine during our pairing. I also happen to prefer French wine, and I won't get too into it here, but many California wines being made these days just don't go so well with food. But I disagree that the wine list was anti-Sonoma or boring. I have NEVER seen as much space dedicated to California wines or had entire sections broken down by appellations, as they were here. I enjoyed leafing through it and thought the wine program was the best part of the restaurant experience.
I found the service a little clumsy, as if the waiters had learned their trade by watching real waiters on TV and were just doing a rough imitation. They didn't do anything wrong, but it was all a little off.
Room was pleasant, with a little buzz. There was a fairly young crowd when I was there, a little dorky, maybe some dot-com zillionaires.
Overall, I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'd go back. If I'm going to blow that kind of cash (and my bill was similar to yours), I think NYC restaurants like Cru, Eleven Madison Park or Gramercy Tavern are a better place to do it. Of course, I live in NYC, so I may be biased :)
Did you eat at any places of similar caliber on your trip here... and how would you rank Cyrus?
(No need to apologize about your preference for NYC restaurants... I usually find them 1st rate but uninspiring, and not somewhere I would spend my own monay... and I seem to get sick everytime I travel there... so I don't like how they tend to use dry spices in the city... we all have our preferences I guess).
We ate at the Girl and the Fig and Willi's this time too, which we liked, but these were a lot more casual (and cheaper). Ate our other meals in taquerias (now that I think about it, some recommended by you in your posts, so thank you!) and In-and-Out. We just *don't* have those out here in NYC, so we always go for that.
I haven't been to French Laundry and I'm not as familiar with the Bay Area pantheon of restaurants, so I'm not sure what would qualify as the same caliber. I definitely haven't done any other 7-course tasting menus in the area.
Dry spices! That's really interesting -- I have never thought about that and will pay more attention going forward. Do you mean dry spices like using ground coriander instead of cilantro?
Our Cyrus chow was somewhat uneven, though generally pretty good. ~$600 for two? We paid same - a Mercedes of a meal if you know what I mean.
Glass kitchen doors right out of Star Trek....interesting the first few times they flew open and shut, then not for the rest of the evening.
Wine pairing is a very individual thing - some good some not to us. But tell ya what - anyone making it through the entire course leaves fully prepped for drunken boxing.