CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Monday, September 05, 2005

You Are The Sunshine of My Life (Cyrus -- Healdsburg, CA)

*** Update on Cyrus here***

Being a restaurant whore does have it's drawbacks, namely, where the hell does one go to celebrate a special occasion? So we were in a bit of a pickle when it came time to decide where to go for our fifth anniversary. Especially because previous anniversaries had gone as follows:

1st anniversary: Aqua, which included free caviar parfaits and dessert as the chef de cuisine at the time lived in our building.

2nd anniversary: Slanted Door, which included sous chef Justine ordering and cooking us two pound lobsters.

3rd anniversary: Fleur de Lys, which was a HUGE let down, but a valuable experience nonetheless, which included us bonding over the sheer preposterousness of the fact that entire parties came and went in the time it took to go from our cheese course to the check (their fault, not ours).

4th anniversary: Our second visit to the French Laundry (yeah, I know, I suck balls for not writing about them yet, but I'm going again soon so I'm waiting). Need I say more?

So what does one do? One reads the trades, that's what one does. And that's how we discovered the gloriousness of Cyrus. I dialed the phone, found us some seats, booked an overpriced hotel room (I was not making a two hour drive home after a meal like this, and it was a good thing, too, as you will see later in this post) and danced around the room like a leprechaun on crack. The excitement of the newness was just too much for me to contain.

Cyrus, which was the name of the man who founded the Persian empire, also means sun. Clever, that.

I knew that it was going to be a good experience when we arrived in Healdsburg and decided to walk by and check it out. We peeked in the windows like grubby little children looking at puppies. And the two members of the staff getting ready for service smiled and waved. My heart skipped a beat.

I have this fantastic dress that is sexy, yet is made of a material that can expand with my waistline (thank God for BCBG's post holiday sale). This dinner was an occasion for such a dress, so I slipped into it while Jon put on his suit that we had made dirt cheap in Thailand. He also put on his orange silk tie that we bought in Como, Italy (it was a multi-national outfit). When he put it on, he looked down and said: "Why do I feel like there has been vomit on this tie?," to which I replied: "My birthday. Last year. After La Folie." "Ah," he said, "thanks." Jon occasionally overindulges at fine restaurants, which leads to an embarrassing cab ride and a trip to the dry cleaners. We've finally figured out that the deadly combination involves red wine, coffee and a creamy dessert. This may not seem important now, but you'll see.

When we arrived at Cyrus for our meal, the hostess practically jumped out of her skin in order to escort us to the dining room. Once you have entered the room, the most brilliant thing in the world happens: they pick up a phone to tell the chef you have arrived, and to send canapes to your table. As in: "Chef, the Restaurant Whore party is here celebrating their anniversary with us. If you could, please send canapes to them at table 43."


Why, you might ask? Isn't it pretentious, one might suppose? Don't you find it silly, you inquire? Here's why: This one simple gesture achieves something that everybody wants when they go to a restaurant -- it makes you feel special. Fuck yes, it's silly and I LOVE that. What other restaurant of this caliber would be willing to risk looking like fools to make a few people feel like it matters that they chose to eat there over somewhere else? Not many. When they called the chef to "announce" us, I swear I smiled wider than an 18 wheeler. I want to go back just for the phone.

We were brought to a lovely corner table arranged so that we were both seated on comfy banquettes. The hostess toured us around the dining room before we nestled into our seats.

Immediately, little canapes appeared. They included a little spoon with smoked sablefish with an herb puree, and a chickpea something. I forget what they called it, but it was a little diamond that was firm and dry (in a good way) on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. I really loved it. I could have eaten a trash bag full. As for the sablefish, neither of us have ever been huge fans of smoked fish in general, but we lapped it up and, *gasp*, enjoyed it. In fact, it may have made me a smoked fish convert.

Since things like this put us totally in our element, we were so delighted that we were on the verge of bouncing on the banquettes. It was then that two completely bitchin' things happened: The first, was Jason Alexander, the sommelier came to our table and introduced himself. He reminded me of someone we know at good old SD, who Jason actually knew as well. And I instantly developed a little crush on this sweet and cheerful man. *Sigh.* And he brought with him the second thing, which was the caviar and Champagne cart. Now we all know how I feel about a cart devoted to just Champagne. So you can imagine the climax I had when this cart also included caviar, along with an antique caviar scale. Little cartoon hearts appeared above my head. When Jason left, I leaned into Jon and whispered, "I know it's horrible, but I might have to leave you on our anniversary for him." To which he replied "No worries at all -- I would, too." Do you see why I love this man?

Now, you'll need to forgive me with the wine. I enjoyed it all immensely (as you will also see) but I don't write when I'm eating. That would take all the fun out of it for me. And since we let cutie pie Jason choose all of our wine, except the sparklies, I don't even have the benefit of having said the names of the wines myself. So while I can recall what varietals we drank, and what it tasted like, I can't tell you the producer or the year. Sorry about that. What I CAN tell you is that everything we had was great.

So we each had a glass of Champagne. Jon is a sucker for the pink stuff, so he went with the one they were offering, and I went for a standard ol' Brut. Both from France, both delish. And to go with that, we got a half ounce of caviar. We went with the Black River Oscetra (as they spell it), because, well, it sounded fucking cool. You see, because the Caspian sea was getting overfished, a bunch of folks decided to grab some of them there sturgeon and plant them in the Black River in Uruguay. The result is equally tasty caviar, for a far smaller ecological price.

They weighed out our caviar on the pretty scale and then the accompaniments arrived. Thinly sliced and fried fingerling potatoes, creme fraiche, egg yolk and chives. We dug in with our tiny little mother of pearl spoons. And it was glorious. We made little towers, careful not to let any of the little buggers roll out of bounds. And when the server returned to clear our plates, he exclaimed "That was record time!" Do we get a prize? It seems we did, as you will later see.

After the couple next to us had wiped the horrified looks off their faces, the meal continued. The next thing to happen was the arrival of an amuse bouche -- a tidbit of shrimp with some red curry atop watermelon and tomato tartare, also on a spoon, except a somewhat larger one this time. Eating it made me smile. Ever since Thailand, I've been a big fan of watermelon mixed into my savory bits and this execution was spot on. The spicy and the sweet got it on in the best way possible.

We opted for the seven course tasting menu with wine pairing. It required no thinking on our part. I did, however, request to substitute one of the lobster preparations (I needed that lobster so I was going to abandon the tasting for the five course if it wasn't a possibility) for the foie gras, and also the pork belly for the veal. I'll try anything once, but that doesn't mean I'll continue to eat it. Foie gras is simply too rich for me, and veal, well, I just don't care for it all that much. I decided to leave those two items to Jon, if the kitchen was willing to comply with my requests. They were. Game on.

A word about the Chef: We've always had a soft spot for Doug Keane. He went to the same school as we did, and is just a great guy. We'd had the pleasure of talking with him when he was doing his thing at Market, and he's super good people. And we spent a good deal of the meal feeling really proud for him, because he truly deserves the success this restaurant will bring him.

On to more food: A blue fin tuna sashimi arrived with lemon cucumbers and basil tomato water. The tuna was flawless and melted seamlessly into my tongue. The accoutrements were awakening. So often is sashimi paired with Asian ingredients that one begins to expect them. In this case, the absence of those flavors and the replacement of the others was really refreshing. It was a great first course as it didn't hamper the appetite one teensy bit. Wicked. The wine here escapes me, but I didn't have a single wine that I didn't like. And I can be a picky bitch when it comes to wine.

Then came our foie gras/lobster. Jon's foie gras came with cherry compote, an almond financier and cherry gastrique. He couldn't quite place his finger on it but while he found it enjoyable, it was not, as he put it, his "favorite foie gras ever." It was seared beautifully, he said, but something felt like it was missing. Maybe, he thought, it needed less tartness, more sweetness. Or maybe it was too, as he put it, "tendon-y." It was very good, he said, but in a contest he'd pick French Laundry or Campton Place over this preparation (FYI: for a supplement Cyrus will do all three foie preparations for you). With this came some liquid candy, a.k.a. Sauternes.

My lobster was a wet dream come true. The Thai marinated lobster was on top of some melon which was on mashed avocado. Fresh hearts of palm were draped on top. The flavors were fresh, alive, and, for lack of a better word, energetic. I simply adored it and almost stabbed Jon with my fork when he went for a bite. But then I remembered it was our anniversary so I let him have some. My crustacean was paired with some lovely Reisling, my grape of choice (I went to school in upstate New York, can you blame me?)

We then got a little taste of some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that was really refreshing. Bottle had a screw cap, too. Is that just awesome, or what?

Next came white bass with sweet corn, sea beans, tomatoes and squash with sherry vinaigrette. This wasn't anything unusual, but it was good. Jon made the wise observation that we shouldn't eat it all as it involved lots of protein and we'd be cursing ourselves later if we did. Smart man. Except he should've mentioned that we shouldn't finish all the wine either. The fish was cooked extremely well and the side bits went really nicely together. Again, nothing extraordinary, but delicious nonetheless. We got a Chardonnay with this, which made me feel a little sad, until I tasted it. It had none of the oak-y, flabby characteristics that I expected. Instead it was light and yummy. Add another point for Mr. Alexander.

Time for some pigeons. The squab was next. This was really great, but having not heeded Jon's earlier advice, I was getting full. So while the squab was tender and juicy with a crispy edge to each piece, I only managed to get down two of the four slices. The cannellini beans, peppers and scallions that accompanied it got slight nibbles as well. Despite my dwindling appetite, it was the best squab I've had. Unfortunately, I don't remember the wine, but there was some.

It was at this point that I got up to pee for the first of ten thousand times. The wine was beginning to take it's toll on my bladder, and I found it more and more necessary to monitor my speech and movements. But I was maintaining for the time being. While I was in the loo, they covered my food so it wouldn't get cold. And offered to cover Jon's if he wanted to wait for me to return. He didn't.

When I returned, Jon had removed his jacket and placed it on the upper corner of the banquette. It was throw down time.

Jason brought us wine, a Cab, I believe, and then realized I was getting the pork belly in lieu of the veal. So I got a California Pinot Noir, which made Jon pout since he didn't get any pinot at all. Now the only smart move I made all evening was to agree to share my pinot with him.

As we began eating, Jon grabbed someone on the arm. I barely had a chance to realize what was going on before I noticed it was Chef Keane. Jon said, "We are enjoying this so much, we are so happy for you. You have a great restaurant." Chef Keane was so unassuming that no one else had even realized he was in the dining room. He was as gracious as ever, remembered us from Market and made us love him even more than we already did. It makes me so happy that good things are happening for this man.

Jon dove into his veal loin with farro, fava beans and chanterelles. You need to understand that farro, fava beans and chanterelles are three of Jon's favorite foods in the world. So he was in complete heaven. And this particular veal loin was awarded the title of best veal he's ever had. Way to go veal! I didn't try it so I have to take his word for it.

I had an award of my own, though, and that was best pork belly I've ever had. I'm a sucker for pork belly. I ADORED this dish. And spent most of my time with it cursing that I hadn't saved more room. And that I was feeling pretty drunk. My little piggy tummy was glazed with bourbon and ginger and came with peaches, grits and a leafy green that I think was spinach. These grits were INCREDIBLE. Best grits ever. So comforting and so good. And the peach was almost like dessert. I almost became a polygamist and married this dish. But I couldn't finish it. FUCK! We couldn't let these go so asked to take them home (Jon had aspirations of having a midnight snack) and they were put in cute little containers in a beautiful bag. Our containers were labeled "for the lady" and "for the gentleman." Ha! I'm a lady!

After they cleared our plates, Jon took off his tie and unbuttoned his top button. No more room for pretense, and the genial staff seemed to be having as much fun as we were. For my part, there was no denying that I was now pretty toasted. If you are counting, we've had eight wines so far. I rarely drink more than 3 glasses on a balls to the wall party night (Yes, I'm a pussy, now shut up). And while these eight were not full glasses, we're looking at about 4-5 full glasses of wine at this point. And I'm turning into chatty Kathy. Fortunately for me, Jon knows to not let me embarrass myself, so he adeptly steered the conversation whenever necessary.

It was then that we were brought the glorious cheese cart. And some more wine (red, but at this point, don't ask me what it was). This is the most impressive cheese cart I've seen. We were given expert guidance by Brendan, who told us he was from Kansas, calls himself a cheese sommelier and that his dad doesn't like that. I let Brendan know that we liked it, and I also informed him that I was having a little trouble maintaining. Nice, Joy, nice. Brendan treated us right and piled on the cheese for us when he saw how excited we were. He listened to our preferences -- he totally got why we didn't prefer goat cheese ("too chalky, right?" he said, in an understanding voice). He was AWESOME. The details are fuzzy but we had a RAW Brillat Savarin which was so nice to try, but I found it to be a bit barnyard-y for my taste. We also had Angel's Feet, a tallegio like cheese that we both really liked. Several pecorinos that I was ready to put in my purse, a goat cheese that almost made us converts. All told we had about eight cheeses. I would go back just for the cheese cart.

We then had a surprise for our anniversary (another anniversary couple across from us had received the same thing). Little shot glasses with gooseberry juice filled about 1/3. Ken, our waiter (who had defected from the French Laundry), then took an old-fashioned seltzer bottle and filled the rest. We sipped out of little metal straws and felt like little kids. It was adorable.

At this point, there is no denying that I am straight up drunk, but I'm continuing to hide it well. So I'm told.

Here comes dessert, and coffee for Jon. He got the ricotta and summer berry tasting and I got baked chocolate mousse, Santa Rosa plums and meringues. I would've liked these to have been more innovative. I didn't have much of Jon's but I know he didn't care for it much. My impression of it was that it was a bit dry and needed a tad more sugar. My dessert was very good and the plums looked like little gems but wasn't anything that got a "wow," which made it seem inferior to the rest of the meal. I was sad that it had been chosen for us; some of the other desserts I saw looked like a lot more fun, such as the caramel soup with kettle corn sorbet. Ay, me. Maybe next time. I got Port with mine, Jon got something golden but I have no idea what it was. It was hard enough to pay attention to what I was getting at that point.

We were brought our bill and little treats, and Jason also brought some delicious fizzy dessert wine. It was scrumptious. Our petit fours were incredible. We got homemade caramels, key lime ices on itty bitty spoons and white chocolate truffles. Clearly this pastry chef knows what she's doing, despite our slightly lackluster desserts. We were also given a box of little treats to take home which included a teeny palmier, a homemade tootsie roll, peanut butter fudge and a marshmallow. Mmmmm.

Jon glanced at the bill and his eyes grew wide. It was either that we got something for free or we were overcharged. When I asked, he said "I'll tell you later" and I realized it was the former. Score!

Owner/GM Nick Peyton came to take our bill, saw our debit card and said "Nice bank." We then launched into an extremely nice discussion with this incredibly nice man who beautifully pretended I was not drunk. He spent quite a bit of time with us. There is something about him that exudes professionalism and warmth at the same time. He's fucking good at his job. You can see why he's been at the top of his class for such a long time. I was charmed. This man treated us like old friends, and I began to understand that Cyrus really dedicates itself to making diners feel like rock stars. They had me at hello.

After the paying (and tipping of 25%) and the thanking, they gave us a custom menu to take home that included our (misspelled) names, that it was our 5th anniversary dinner and the date, plus all the things we ate even though I had made a few substitutions. Righteous. Unfortunately for you, dearest readers, no wine pairings were listed.

I graciously walked out the door. Once I hit the street to walk back to our overpriced hotel, however, I became drunk girl (recount: I had no fewer than ELEVEN different wines over the course of the evening) and we are lucky that I even made it to the room. I made Jon tell me (about 1,000 times, no less) that I hadn't embarrassed myself. If I had, the staff certainly didn't let on. And Jon would have no problem telling me if I had made an ass of myself. I think he would rather have enjoyed it a bit if I had. No such luck for him.

And then he told me what we got for free.


I was sure I had died from alcohol poisoning and gone to heaven. We then got worried that it was a mistake and not a gift. And then started thinking we should have tipped more. Our 25% became about 19% if you factor in the freebies. So we decided we'd go back the next day and make it right.

Then my inebriated state got the better of me. And I did something I am ashamed to admit, but I can't hide it from you, lovies.

I tossed my cookies. And probably the cheese. And maybe (*sniff*) a bit of the pork belly. And then the apocalypse happened because I NEVER do that. That's Jon's job. Mother fucker.

I slept like a babe after that and when we woke (sans hangover, thank you very much), we bought a little wine notecard, thanked the staff profusely for an extraordinary experience, told them the wine pairing got the better of us and threw in a little cash. Thus bringing our gratuity to about 25% again if you factor in the free stuff. Consciences assuaged, all was right in the world again.

FYI, when we saw Jason at Coco 500 two nights later, he thanked us for the "very nice" note. And smiled when we mentioned that we weren't sure if the gifts were actually gifts or mistakes. And he was just as nice as he had been in his own restaurant. I really heart that man.

My verdict: Cyrus kicks ass. Sure, there are a few small things that could use a little work/polishing, but I have faith they'll be corrected in no time. 90% of our food was exemplary and 150% of our service was above and beyond the call of duty (the service there is as good as, if not better than, any restaurant I've ever been to). I can't wait to return. When I do go back, though, I think I'll go for the 5 course where I can pick my own stuff. The seven ended up being entirely too much food, and the regular menu looked so good that I don't think it would detract at all to skip the tasting menu. I think I may even have to order all three of the lobster preparations on my next visit. Why not, right?

I have become a sun worshipper.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aw, man, I do so love you.

The in-laws are coming... does Cyrus do lunch?

9/07/2005 12:31 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Aw, baby, I love you, too.

No lunch. Barndiva does, though. Not the same menu as at dinner but still good. And I hear great things about Willi's.

9/07/2005 11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Willi's, huh? OK.

We might stay a bit more southward than Healdsburg -- haven't decided.

I'm hoping to use this as an excuse to go to Terra again.

9/08/2005 2:39 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

My uncle loves Willi's but we've never been. I LOVE Terra. What about=20
Farmhouse Inn? They have a killer cheese cart.

9/08/2005 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you reviewed Terra?

Willi's is great. Pulled duck and foie gras poppers are my faves.

The guy who used to do the cheese cart at farm house also started the cheese program at Cyrus, and he's a genius. But he's gone. Don't know where or why.

9/09/2005 9:40 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

John, I haven't been back to Terra since starting the blog -- so many restaurants, so little time! I'd love to meet the cheese man -- he knows his stuff, for sure.

9/09/2005 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I've been leery of the place. Unfairly it's true but I've still been cautious after our last Healdsburg experience at Dry Creek Kitchen (can you say over rated?).

Anyway, next time you're in the car, on the open road, keep on going, make a left and we'll feed you too.

9/10/2005 10:41 AM  
Blogger Joy said...


Dry Creek's got nothing on Cyrus. I think of Dry Creek as a New Yorker's impression of what Sonoma should be. Agree totally that it's overrated.

I shamefully forgot the name of your restaurant. E-mail it to me and I will be there in a heartbeat:).

9/10/2005 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a number of good sources for smoked fish; all the ones I know about are in New York, and of those, my favorite--partly cause I grew up in the neighborhood, partly because of the name--is Barney Greengrass the Sturgeon King, at

Their smoked sable is incredible. And if you're contemplating lox, I recommend the salty.

9/14/2005 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

haddock, you've had me wondering every since I read these comments, where does that guy cook? I checked your blog -- very interesting, but I didn't get all that deeply into it yet because you're awfully prolific.

" ...on the open road, keep on going, make a left and we'll feed you too. "

It's an intriguing riddle. My first thought was take a left and go up 128. Boonville hotel? That may be my best thought too. Stevenswood? Maybe another Mendo place, or maybe even Ft Bragg. But I've never heard of anybody up that way doing the whole pig thing. Maybe I'm not thinking north enough. because nobody thinks there's real food up the 101 corridor past the Sonoma County line. I believe John at Zazu is doing all that, but he's clearly too far south to be you.

9/17/2005 1:43 PM  
Blogger Joy said...


Haddock's restaurant is in Ft.Bragg. I just don't know which one it is:).


9/18/2005 8:09 AM  
Blogger Joy said...

P.S. I love your site designs, john:)

9/18/2005 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joy, you are toooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo kind. Thank you!

There are not that many choices in Ft. Bragg. I really wanted to eat at Haddock's place (there's really only place in Ft Bragg it could be) last time we were up, but we had our two little people with us and Haddock's place just doesn't seem like a crayons and juice box kind of restaurant. Instead we ate at Mendo Bistro, which I found pleasantly surprising. The restaurant on the Mezzanine of an old department store ( I think... ) that's been turned into a indoor antiques mall, or something like that. They do the Craft thing, where you pick your protein and you choose a cooking method and sauce. I had grilled Striped Bass with Charmoula and it was effing great, especially washed down with a Navarro Pinot Noir Method Ancien. Can't remember the wife's entrée but it was good. The kids liked their pasta or burgers or whatever fine.

9/18/2005 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... much was dinner?

10/19/2005 5:54 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Anonymous...a lady doesn't eat and tell:).

10/20/2005 2:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home