Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cyrus, Healdsburg, CA

Here's a quick tip on how to dine at a two star Michelin restaurant known for fantastic service when you have Celiac disease. Call, make a reservation and let them know you can't have gluten. Then just sit back, eat, and enjoy. That is what I did at Cyrus in Healdsburg.

OK, maybe it isn't quite that easy, but close. We are fortunate that dining out these days needn't be onerous. When making a reservation at a high-end restaurant it is usually very simple. I always note my food restriction in my online reservation, and then call a few days ahead to remind them. Cyrus has a direct chef's line, which is even better. When I arrive at the restaurant I confirm if they don't get to it first.

We went to Cyrus with three of Jason's co-residents. It was just me and the food and four neurosurgeons. Luckily the food kept me entertained when I got bored with the brain dissection conversations (just kidding guys)....

We had the 8 course chef's tasting menu. Some courses allow you the choice of dishes, but since Cyrus has a lot of Asian influence, many dishes had soy sauce, so I just left my meal in the hands of the chef. I always find it better than trying to guess which dish would be best gluten-free. It was a wise choice.

We started the meal with small bites meant to exemplify different flavor elements: a spring roll with sour tamarind, an umami filled consomme, a briney clam with bacon, a sweet dried strawberry, and a mildly bitter daikon radish.

Our amuse bouche was a lovely salmon sashimi, sweet and tender with peas, pea tendrils and pea puree. Succulent, yet light. For my seafood-phobic husband, they provided a golden beet based dish.

Salmon Sashimi with Pea Sprouts and Pea Puree
Next came the bread tray, filled with 7 or so different bready treats. This is where I usually just tune out so I don't feel envious. Then another server came with a small plate of two gluten-free brioche rolls. I was so excited, I scooped up some of the Meyenburg goat butter and Spring Hill cultured butter. The butters are widely available brands, but I especially enjoyed the goat milk butter. The gluten free bread was soft, very buttery, moderately sweet, and not at all dense. The cheddar bacon scone was a favorite of the gluten-eating guests, while the sour dough epi was less of a hit. Cute, but too crusty in a mini format. 

Course One
Seared Hamachi with Battera Konbu, Radish and Candied Kumquats, Chilled Dashi

Artichokes ‘a la Barigoule’, Sauce Skordalia

The hamachi was appropriately rare, and the candied kumquats offered a nice contrast to the salty broth. The artichokes were wonderfully accented by "textured" olive oil and fresh chervil.

Course Two
Foie Gras Torchon with Rhubarb, Yuzu and Buckwheat

Butter Poached Lobster with Marjoram Spring Onions and Pickled Ramps

Jason reported the fois to be fairly uncomplicated, but enjoyed the rhubarb flake crusting the fois. The rhubarb on the plate was relatively tart, and he very much enjoyed the light earthy buckwheat crumpets.
The lobster was rich and succulent. It was a small portion, but rich enough that it felt rather large. I would have loved some contrasting flavors or textures.

Course Three
Ikejime Tai with Galangal Rice Noodles and Banana Blossoms, Coconut Milk Froth

Morel and Green Garlic “Ravioli”, Poached Bantam Egg, Parmesan Froth

This was hands down my favorite savory course. The gingery noodles captured the coconut foam and the banana blossom was a sweet sour slightly al dente accompaniment to the perfectly search fish.
Jason enjoyed the pasta on the ravioli immensely but did find the Parmesan crisp a bit overwhelming.

Course Four
Crispy Poussin with Potato Mousseline, Asparagus and Morels

Jason quickly identified the chicken as sous vide separate from the crisping of the skin that are then "glued" back together with an enzyme. This was a very classic tasting dish, with a very rich chicken flavor. For the uninitiated in the crowd, the morels stood out as something novel and yet richly delicious.

Course Five
Hoisin Glazed Short Rib with Tat Soi and Ginger Bone Marrow Flan

Lamb Loin Roulade with Green Garlic Risotto and Fava Bean Ragout

 This course was a bit more ho hum for me. The lamb was mildly flavored and not a lot of contrasting or interesting flavors or textured. Perfectly cooked, but less inspired. The shortribs were tender, with too much hoisin sauce: Jason wanted the beef flavor to come through a bit more. The marrow flan was excellent with the ginger undertones.

Course Six
Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses Presented Tableside

At this point in the meal they bring a large tray of cheeses and assemble your choice of three cheeses. You tell them what you like, and they select from sheep, goat and cows milk cheeses. Some of the cheeses are rather pedestrian, but some are very lovely artisinal cheeses. Our bleu cheese was strong enough to tingle the lips...mmmm.... They are served with sampling of sweet accompaniments (a berry gel, pear compote with juniper, and panforte) and housemade crackers. They brought me the standard rice crackers. but it was nice to be remembered.

Next came an exotic citrus mini lollipop that served as a perfect palate cleanser.

Course Seven
Passion Fruit Gelato, Miso Custard and Sesame Sable

My, oh my, oh my. This was so good. The miso custard was complex and sweet, and the peach the perfect foil. Drizzled with a fruity olive oil. Jason reported the sesame sable to be deeply flavored and nicely offset by the butterscotch buttercream. Didn't meet the nirvana my recent dessert at Meadowood, but close. 

Course Eight
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Tart with Caramelized Banana Ice Cream

Soy Milk Panna Cotta, Pineapple Coconut Sorbet, Pineapple Compressed Cucumber

I received the vegan dessert as neither of the standard options could be prepared gluten-free. It was a bit of a let-down. While the compressed cucumber was bright, the panna cotta was vegan and lacked the flavor or mouthfeel of a gelatin based panna cotta. The sorbet was meh. Jason reported the tart as very good, but did wish the plate had stronger flavors chocolate and cherry flavors to stand up to the peanut.

Finally, they end up with a tray of housemade chocolates, cookies, pate de fruit, and other confections to choose. Nothing was spectacular, but the brownie they gave as a take home treat was very good. An yes, they made a flourless chocolate brownie for me. It didn't make it to a photo (or past breakfast the next day).

My meal at Cyrus was wonderful from start to finish. Their service is really top notch, and probably the best I have ever had at a restaurant. Attentive, but not cloying; light, not stuffy, but professional and knowledgeable. And to provide gluten-free bread and brownies just made me love them that much more. I did wish for more unique and contrasting flavors in many courses, but overall the execution was superb. They don't get the critical acclaim for nothing.

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