In my opinion, when planning a trip to San Francisco and wine country, it’s absolutely necessary to put a lot of forethought into the meals you’re going to have while you’re there. I think it’s not only important to have a variety of different styles and cuisines, but also price points. It’d be very easy to break the bank if you weren’t careful! With that said, I decided to choose our one high-end, no-holds barred, splurge first. Once we had that reservation set, we could focus on the other, more casual meals.
Ever since I saw Gourmet magazine’s “Restaurants Worth the Money” article last year, I knew the next time I was in the area, I must go to one of those listed. That meant there were two to choose from: Cyrus and The French Laundry. I’d already read plenty of comparisons of the two Michelin starred restaurants in years prior, and knew that there are staunch fans on either side of the debate. I doubt there will ever be an answer as to which is better, but my advice to you is that if you’re ever in the position to dine at one of them, be sure to read as many reviews as possible about them both before deciding which is the best fit for you.
We went with Cyrus for several reasons: 1) The reservation process is much easier. You don’t have to go through the exhausting — dialing, dialing and redialing 60 days before the date you want to dine — production that The French Laundry requires. 2) The Cyrus chef, Douglas Keane, just won the James Beard Award for Best New Chef Pacific. 3) The tasting menu, although very pricey, is about half the price of TFL. 4) Cyrus is located in Healdsburg and I’ve already explained how badly I wanted to spend some time there!
So that’s how we ended up staying at h2hotel our first night in wine country. We knew that the optimal experience for a Cyrus dinner would be long and leisurely (3 + hours!) , and filled with fantastic wine. Thus, nearby hotel accommodations were a must, which in our case meant a walk of probably less than three blocks.
Upon arrival to the restaurant, I was fully prepared for a slightly stuffy/formal atmosphere, and maybe even a little holier than thou attitude from the staff. This was white tablecloth fine dining, you know. Fortunately, my preconceived notions were proved incorrect throughout the meal. Sure, the decor of the dining room was resplendent, but the wait staff was far from snooty. Extremely knowledgeable, yet totally unpretentious, this may have been the best service I’ve ever received. We were awed with the efficiency and synchronization of the servers, as each of our plates of food were set down simultaneously, and then swooped up within seconds of our last bite of each dish.
Oh, but I guess I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself in talking about the service. The food, you ask? Ah well, first things first, we had a big decision to make right off the bat. Do we go with the 5 course or 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu? We all agreed that 8 courses just seemed like way too much food, especially since we wanted to leave some room for cocktails at Spoonbar after dinner, so the 5 course it was. Of course, we also opted to add the cheese course, because this group just can’t say no to cheese!
Thank goodness we made that decision, because there was even more to the 5 course extravaganza than we realized….canapes and an amuse bouche! The canapes they serve are just small tastings to get your palate familiarized with the fives tastes: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami. To be completely honest, I can’t remember what most of them were, but it was a fun and interesting way to begin the meal nonetheless. The amuse bouche – sashimi- was also delightful, but again, I didn’t take a photo or make notes, so can’t give you any description! In addition to these fun little bites, there was also a bread basket making it’s way through the room. These weren’t just any old dinner rolls. There was a wide variety to choose from, our favorites being the bacon cheddar scone and the feta/olive loaf. Not only that, there were two different kinds of butter, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, which was incredible! I may or may not have eaten a spoonful of the goat’s milk butter sans bread….
I’d say we were warmed up by then, wouldn’t you? Let the games begin!
If this first course was any indication of how the evening was going to go, then we were in good shape. “Swoon-worthy” is the best way to describe it. Not just for me, but for each of us. I even found myself eating it in tiny little bites so as to make it last as long as possible! Avocado puree and a cilantro, mint and basil marinade were the accompaniments to the hearts of palm topped lobster. Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Scallop with Rice Noodles and Pickled Green Papaya, Coconut Milk Froth
We had a choice between foie gras and scallop for this course, and we all went with the scallop which turned out to be a great decision since it knocked the socks off us all. The perfectly cooked scallop was complemented nicely by the light rice noodles and coconut milk. The next day we were each still debating what our favorite dish of the evening was, and I think for me, this was it. Too bad I didn’t take a photo of it!
Sweet Corn and Black Truffle Risotto
Medai with Sweet Corn and Scallions, Lemon Verbena (pictured below)
Lisa and Amanda both ordered the Risotto dish, while Charmaine and I opted for the Medai . The use of sweet corn gave them similar flavors, but the Risotto was the unanimous winner. Lisa and Amanda even felt this was quite possibly the highlight of their experience.
Striploin of Beef with Daikon, Ginger-Tomato Broth
Crispy Poussin with Potato Mousseline and Haricot Verts, Fine Herbes with Fresh Black Truffles (pictured below)
Again, Charmaine and I chose the same dish, the Pouisson, and we opted to upgrade and add the black truffles. Sadly, we were a little let down. We were both expecting to be blown away by the truffle flavor, but could barely taste them. It wasn’t that the dish was bad in any way (believe me, every bite was eaten!) but when compared with the earlier dishes that burst with flavor, this one fell a little flat.
Oh goodness. This is the point when we’re starting to feel the effects off all the food (and wine) and questioning our decision to add the cheese course. But then the cart rolled up and we suddenly perked up. We each got to choose three from the offerings of sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheeses, which were served with crackers, baguettes, walnut raisin bread, pear butter, and date jelly. Some cheeses were definitely better than others, and for this round, Amanda won the ordering contest because hers were ALL fantastic.
Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses Presented Tableside
Next was a ”special” dessert, not to be confused with the actual 5th course, dessert. No, this was special because it was for Charmaine’s birthday!
Truth be told, Charmaine’s birthday is in January, when it’s cold, wet, and often times, snowy. The rest of us have summer birthdays so we feel a bit sorry for her. When asked if we were dining for a special occasion, we decided that yes, in fact, we were. We were celebrating Charmaine’s birthday in the summer by gosh! Who knew that this meant we’d be getting an added perk? I mean, it’s not like our younger years when we celebrated birthdays at Chi Chi’s, wearing a sombrero and being served fried ice cream with a sparkler….
No, I’d have to say it was nothing like that. It was much, much better.
I don’t even really know how to explain this contraption except to say it’s the most unique way to put cocoa powder on a chocolate chip cookie that I’ve ever seen.
And there were even egg creams to go along with the cookies! Made with homemade chocolate syrup, cream and carbonated water, we got to stir them up ourselves with a cute little metal straw.
Course 5: Desserts
Red Velvet Cake
Orange Blossom Fritter with Apricot, Basil and Pine Nuts (pictured below)
And then, if those sweet treats weren’t enough for you, a cart of Mignardises arrives!
At this point none of us could even imagine eating a nibble of anything else. Apparently that’s not a problem because they don’t actually expect you to eat them at the restaurant. No, instead they are a gift for you to take home! Each person gets a small to-go box and is allowed to choose whatever treats tickle your fancy.
If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion while in wine country, or just want to treat yourself (because you deserve it every now and then!), I highly recommend Cyrus. But I also highly recommend you eat as little as possible in the hours leading up to it, and be prepared to work out hard the next day to burn off all the calories you’re going to consume!
Photo credit: Cyrus by niallkennedy