Gnocchi with Escargot, Thai-Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Warm Chocolate Torte
Occupation: Marketing Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Cyrus
Reviewed Cyrus: Sunday February 10, 2008
Cyrus is located just off the square in Healdsburg, and I strongly recommend getting to Healdsburg early and walking around before your meal. There are wonderful shops, wine tastings, and art galleries to peruse before you get to Les Mars Hotel, and the street parking is plentiful and easy to come by.
When you walk through the doors of Les Mars Hotel you know you are somewhere special. The lobby welcomes visitors with unique 17th and 18th century antiques and an understated elegance that feels more like a well-appointed home than an opulent or “stuffy” hotel.
When you first enter the restaurant Cyrus (just off the lobby of Les Mars), you are greeted by a hostess who both confirms your reservation and provides you with the option of first having a drink at the bar or instead choosing to be seated at your table. Always choose the drink at the bar! It is a wonderful way to start your evening and the cocktail menu is unrivaled in my opinion. This was my second time dining at Cyrus, and I knew I couldn’t live another day without indulging in their signature Manhattan, the perfect blend of orange and vanilla infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, and Amarena cherries (instead of maraschino and makes all the difference in the world, lemme tell ya!). My boyfriend was going to order Cyrus’s version of “The Last Word” since we were eager to cite any differences between this Last Word and The Slanted Door’s Last Word, but once he noticed the martinis at a nearby table with the olives artfully dancing on a wisp of bamboo balanced carefully over the drink’s edge, he changed his mind!
The bar was a bit busy this particular evening, and it took several minutes to place our drink order, but once we sat with drink in hand, we were oblivious to any other distractions.
Upon moving into the dining room, we were ensconced by the warm palette of inviting colors and textures (the curtains are drawn completely, which gives the feeling of being inside a cocoon). The decor is impeccable (cloister ceilings and pearly Venetian plaster walls), and from the moment you sit, you are doted on by perceptive (not overbearing) waitstaff.
The glorious caviar and Champagne offering is the first treasure to come by on a cart. You are presented with myriad options (caviar, caviar tasting, Champagne, frozen vodka service) and without hesitation we indulged. On our last visit we didn’t even consider our pocketbook whilst ordering, but on this visit we opted for a more conservative entry into the evenings culinary indulgences and began with 1/2 ounce of the California Select and a glass of champagne. The caviar is served with two different types of potato — a more traditional “hash” style and an inventive “grit.” I can’t tell you which I preferred because they both presented the perfect foundation for the caviar, crème fraîche, scallions, and egg. The combination of flavors sings on your palette. I think I could have eaten that all night long. But alas, I had to reserve room for all of the other wondrous delights that were to come my way.
One fun thing about eating at a restaurant like Cyrus is that you are constantly getting little treats you weren’t even expecting. Like the canapés starter and the amuse bouche. (Not to mention the onslaught of desserts at the close of the meal). I love surprises, so chef’s tasting menu aside (a cornucopia of surprises), there are those unexpected incremental courses. It’s like Christmas!
My boyfriend and I found ourselves counting the courses as they arrived because with each course we knew we had one less to look forward to and we were already dreading the end. We even played a quick round of the “what if” game, in this case: what if you were given the choice of a two-week stay at a Villa in the South of France, complete with butler, maid, and chef, OR one dinner a month at Cyrus for a year. We both picked Cyrus.
Of all the courses, I think, hands down, the foie gras served two ways was my fav. It is so rich and yet so delicate…the foie gras served warm with the quail egg “bulls-eye” literally melts in the mouth. The foie gras served chilled as a terrine with shortbread crusts, almost tastes like dessert. It’s hard to imagine a world without foie gras when it tastes THAT good.
On the fourth course, Cyrus’s take on chicken and dumplings, we were presented with a beautiful wooden box and inside was the most glorious Italian black truffle I’d ever seen. For a mere (wink) $22 per person we could add three shavings of said truffle to this dish. We opted to pass. Just kidding! We added it without hesitation. It was worth the $7.33 per bite. Truly.
Course five, the Wagyu beef, was dreamy. For those not familiar with this type of beef, it is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, setting it apart from any other beef experience you’ll ever have. Not kidding. This beef melts in your mouth like butter. In fact, one might argue that between the foie gras and the Wagyu, my consumption of unsaturated fat that evening surpassed my intake for the month. Again, all worth it. (And whilst on the subject of butter, let me say you are presented with both a goat milk butter and cow milk butter alongside your épi baguette, and despite ample warning not to eat too much bread, it’s impossible not to….).
The cheese course is a longtime favorite. Mainly because at Cyrus you aren’t forced to choose three cheeses and stare longingly at the rest still untouched on the cart. You are asked a number of probing questions about your likes and dislikes in the fromage dept (i.e., strong vs. innocuous, runny vs. firm, etc.) and then the Maître Fromager takes over, presenting you with the most perfect balance of all the things you love about cheese. In this case we opted for an Epoisse (standout in my mind), a dry-aged cheddar, and a perfect blue among others. The cheese is served with ginger infused apple, dates, and candied nuts (as well as a fruit/nut bread that I’ll never remember the name of but is to die for).
If the food weren’t enough, you can opt to have every course paired with a perfectly matched wine (and we did). The first time I visited Cyrus I went with the “grand wine pairing” which is a “must do” at some point in one’s life….this time we went with the traditional wine pairing and found it just as enjoyable. The sommelier earns every penny for his attention to detail, and we just sat back and relished his handiwork.
If the seven courses, intermittent surprises and gorgeous wine pairings weren’t enough, come dessert time, you are again blown away by what can only be described as heaven right here on earth. The cardamom ice cream was so smooth we thought at first we were having a panna cotta! The blood orange soufflé with Champagne anglaise warranted us demanding they leave the anglaise at the table. (Nothing fazes the food servers at Cyrus — they cleaned up the small pitcher and promptly returned it to the table). The chocolate torte was the smoothest, most decadent chocolate you’ll ever place upon your tongue. And THEN….there is what is known as “mignardises,” a sampling of candies and goodies that you can have as many of as you like AND a take-home goodie box to boot!
I can’t say enough about Cyrus. I am only attempting to wrap up this short novel about my love for Cyrus so that KQED can publish it within the parameters of their website.
In summary, I can say without hesitation that Cyrus is the finest dining experience of my lifetime. (And I like to dine well). From the moment you walk through the doors at Cyrus you are made to feel like a guest in someone’s exquisite home. The décor is stunning, the waitstaff attentive, but not pretentious, and the food the best you will ever taste. If I had to identify that which truly sets Cyrus apart from the other exquisite dining experiences of the world, it’s the incredibly well-orchestrated presentation of foods; beyond that which is served on the plate (stunning in itself), it’s the way in which the plate is delivered to your table. Like a well-played symphony, courses are presented by an equal number of food servers as are guests seated at the table and lowered in unison. They say God is in the details, and restaurant Cyrus had me praying for another swift return.
Pricey? Sure. Worth it? MOST DEFINITELY!
I’ll take Cyrus over a vacation any day, any time.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Slanted Door
Reviewed Cyrus: Wednesday March 5, 2008
The most descriptive word for dining at Cyrus would be perfection, since from the moment I stepped into the restaurant, until the moment I walked out everything was simply amazing, especially the food! Upon entering, there is a small room with a bar in front. Several people were dining at the bar, as the menu is the same (save for the priced fixed tasting menu). There are also four small cocktail tables, and you can either sit there and eat without a reservation, or simply enjoy a cocktail.
The dining room is beautiful. Elegant and classic with an underlying tone of sophistication. The staff was incredibly attentive and professional, never missing a beat, and upon delivery of each dish they would explain nearly every ingredient in it. The first dish to arrive was the foie gras, which looked like edible art. The balance of foods placed strategically around the crisp white dish was beautiful. Two servers presented the dish, and upon it being placed on the table, the one server poured what I assume was some type of liquor, and it was set ablaze. After a few seconds, the other server relinquished the fire with what I believe was some type of a pineapple juice. The dish was divine. An explosion of the senses. It was tropical and different than the staple foie gras I have had at fine French restaurants. A welcome change and very unique. It paired perfectly with a bottle of 1985 Dr. Loosen Spatlese I ordered.
Did I mention their wine list was gigantic? While most everything on the list is fairly young (Cyrus has only been around for 4 years now), there were some cherries, and I thought I did fairly well with a 28-year-old Spatlese for $68! My second course was gnocchi with escargot, which when ordering, seemed a bit unusual. Being I love both separately, I thought WOW, what would it be like together? Well, it hit the spot and blew my mind. Between the texture of the small handmade gnocchi, which were as light as a pillow and the texture of the escargot, this was a pairing in heaven. The dish screamed for a white Chablis which the staff generously poured me a small glass of.
Finally to conclude, out came my order of “duck three ways.” I am an enormous duck fan and when I see it on the menu at a fine restaurant, I almost always order it. I’ve had this dish at two other ultra premium restaurants in both Napa and San Francisco, and while they were both good, this one took home the gold. A beautiful compilation of flavors and textures evoked a standing ovation by my taste buds. Having been extremely fortunate just three days prior to this dinner in eating dishes created by the hands of Daniel Boulud, Michael Mina, Traci Des Jardins, and Regis and Jacques Marcon, I can honestly say that the meal at Cyrus won my heart. If you haven’t been, you haven’t lived! Bravo…
Occupation: Health Care Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Yellow Submarine
Reviewed Cyrus: Saturday February 23, 2008
My boyfriend and I started with a cocktail in the bar while we waited for our reservation. In choosing the cocktails, we were presented with a forty-four-page book of possible cocktails and liquors to choose from — we selected a house special Manhattan with infused bourbon and a gin cocktail. The Manhattan would have been better if the bourbon was not infused, the gin cocktail seemed a bit overly complex. We did find very amusing that on the last page of the book the listing of beers included Pabst Blue Ribbon. We asked the cocktail waitress if they sell a lot of PBR, and she said that when the locals come in, they love it, as a result, they do sell a great deal of PBR.
We were seated in the dining room. Atmosphere was very beautiful with large flower arrangements created from branches of blooming trees. We noticed the glass door to the kitchen was activated automatically and it gave the appearance of a space age Star Trek type door. Shortly after being seated, the cart of champagne and caviar came over, and we learned about various special champagnes and caviars. Although we are not caviar experts, we decided we would choose to sample the least expensive option because we probably would not appreciate the subtleties of the more exotic choices. We enjoyed two different glasses of Champagne and a half ounce of caviar that was carefully weighed on an old scale. Nice touch.
Next, we received our menus and discussed the option of doing the 7-course chef’s menu versus ordering a few courses from the set menu. Although the 7-course menu sounded interesting, it seemed like too much food for us. As a result, we each chose 4 items from the menu (total of 8) and asked the server to send out the plates in whatever order the chef thought that they would best be paired, in addition, we would share each plate and wanted paired wines. We really appreciated that the server was up to the challenge, it is not easy to pair dishes and wines from a large menu and make all of the flavors work well.
We started with the lobster as one plate and the shiitake mushrooms as the other first course. These were absolutely delicious. The lobster was, by far, our favorite of all of the courses that evening. The meat was perfectly prepared and it was placed on a bed of shredded mint, cilantro, and basil. Fantastic. The shiitake mushrooms arrived at the table with a waiter who poured steaming broth over the mushrooms. The flavors were great. Both wines matched well with the plates.
Next, we had the two kinds of foie gras. I loved the cold version and my boyfriend loved the seared foie gras. Paired wines went nicely and complemented the flavors well.
The third course was the winter vegetables and the pea and pancetta risotto. I was not a fan of the winter vegetables. There were three types of vegetables, separately prepared and I felt that the vegetables were overwhelmed by sauce. I enjoyed the peas in the risotto, however, my boyfriend felt that the flavors were a bit off. Wines were good.
The final course was the meat course: lamb and rabbit. Both of us felt that the flavors of the courses became dramatically heavy at this point, and the wines did not quite complement the dishes. The cabbage with the rabbit was particularly salty, and the lamb roulade was wrapped in what we at first thought was fatty bacon, but later we thought that maybe it was a part of the lamb, we weren’t sure. The first three courses were pretty good, however, this last course seemed a bit too dense for the conclusion of the meal.
Both of us were very full, as a result, we skipped the cheese course, as well as the desserts. Each guest is presented with a brownie and a selection of small desserts. We definitely felt that we had a dessert, even though we did not order one.
As with the other two restaurants I reviewed, I did check out the bathroom — it was in excellent condition!