Cyrus (Healdsburg, CA) – Luxuriously Average

Cyrus has been on my to-do list for awhile. Theoretically, a chef with a resume that includes Gary Danko & Jardiniere (both highly over-rated) shouldn’t impress me (in fact, it should make me run far away) but i saw some pics of his dishes and they *look* very good. Add in all of the buzz over the past year (Food & Wine, SF Magazine, Douglas Keene as F&W Best Chef of 2006) and I thought this could be a surprise meal.

Silly me. It’s a good, not great, meal that more resembles SF’s “fancy meal quagmire” than its 2 pillars – Manresa and French Laundry. The restaurant has stated they want to bring “European dining” to the Bay Area; presumably, this means luxurious ingredients, superior service, and high price tags among other things. They succeed on some fronts, fail on others, but the sum of the parts don’t add up anything close to a proper European experience.

The design was atrocious – nothing more than upscale faux sophistication. The tables are *cramped*; granted, we had a poor seat, but w/ the many servers, cheese cart, champagne/caviar cart, and who knows what else, it felt very cramped. This is not European dining (where Alain Ducasse would put 1 table on a city block if they could, Cyrus would put 120.) It reached a climax when a neighboring party was being served their cheeses and the server’s ass was practically on our tabletop.

People have said the service is top-notch; I call it tedious and extremely bothersome. This may sound strange but there are too many servers and they’re always bothering you. A minute doesn’t go by w/o someone reaching over your table to fill a glass, make a stupid joke, or adjust something unnecessarily. Perhaps some appreciate this level of attention but I always find it unwanted whether it be shopping or eating.

Tasting Menu

1. Amuse
Horseradish puree, salmon, beets, & microgreens. It had a nice little kick but maybe too much of a kick. Regardless, it wasn’t a “wow” that i think an amuse should be. Ok.

2. Seared Blue Fin w/ Lemon Cucumber & Lemon Verbana Tomato Water
The fish was high quality, mostly raw, but i thought the cucumber overpowered the tuna. It could be my dislike of cucumber. Regardless, a pleasant refreshing dish to start the meal. Good.

3. Pen Shell w/ Sweet Corn & Pickled Ramp Greens
Pen shell is a mussel-like creature that has the taste of abalone. It was seared and it tasted like a “meaty” scallop – the sweet corn balanced the dish nicely. Very Good.

4. Foie Prepared 3 Ways
Foie terrine, seared, and torchon. The terrine was served w/ a plum/ginger sauce and was the least flavorful. Seared foie was served w/ a pistachio-crusted donut (yum! not too sweet, wonderful texture) and candied ginger. The ginger was hidden but once i discovered it, it brought the seared foie alive. Torchon was encrusted w/ macademia nuts and served w/ a lychee jello (double yuck.) The torchon was buttery and decadent – everything you want in foie. Good to Very Good.

5. Tamarind Glazed Quail w/ Tatsoi, Vanilla Roasted Daikon, & Dates
The quail was quite tasty but cooked inconsistently (mine was fine; another was not.) The glaze was completely overpowering and it was applied far too liberally; akin to a cheap bbq place. The vanilla roasted daikon were delicious and imparted a subtle sweetness when eaten w/ the quail (after scraping off much of the sauce.) Good.

6. Cyrus BLT – Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly w/ Braised Lettuce, Fried Green Tomato, & Pancette Chip
I’m not generally a fan of braised meats but the pork belly was pretty good. The other elements, while not bad, detracted from the flavorful pork. While it wouldn’t be a BLT w/o these elements; it would be a wonderful piece of pork. A good dish that could be great with some editing – there’s no need to be cute when you can be great. Good.

7. Apricot Frozen Popsicle/Lollipop
Very cold, intense flavor, but too icy of a texture. Good.

8. Peppered Wagyu Beef w/ Foie Gras, Rosti Potatoes & Chanterelles, & Beef Jus
This dish was just too rich for this point in the meal. The wagyu was tender but flavorless (I don’t think it was aged very long.) The seared foie was not as good as before (less searing) and it did nothing but take the already-rich wagyu and shove the whole dish overboard. Not Good.

9. Generous Cheese Course
A wonderful cheese course – i joked that they served more food during this course than the previous 8 courses. 5 huge cuts of cheese, bread, nuts, this, that, and the kitchen sink. The cheese choices were impressive for an American restaurant, ripened correctly, and served at the correct temperature. Very Good.

10. Raspberry Mint Soda
Way too sweet – they take raspberry syrup and carbonate it table-side. I may have received 1-2 additional cavities from eating that thing. Not Good.

11. Kettlecorn Ice Cream w/ Hot Caramel Soup & Kettlecorn
Very sweet, but a daring dessert that tasted very good. Kudos for not resorting to the traditional desserts found everywhere else. Very Good.

12. Yellow Nectarines w/ Almond Financier & White Chocolate Ice Cream
When is white chocolate a good idea? Ok.

A good, not great, meal but not a good value. I do appreciate the use of high-quality and luxurious ingredients but the dishes should be edited. Certainly on par w/ the Bay Area’s 2nd-tier (re: La Folie, Fleur de Lys, Ritz Carlton, what was Campton Place) but nowhere near its 2 pillars – FL and Manresa. If you want a European dining experience, go to French Laundry – that is Europe transported to Napa. I could see Michelin awarding Cyrus 1 star but it doesn’t deserve more than that.

- chuck

  • tastingsf


    I just found your blog. I’m incredibly impressed (and jealous!) of all the amazing places you’ve gotten to travel to and eat at. I completely agree that Frances is the best in SF right now and it’s what I find I compare most other meals with. But I have to disagree with Cyrus – I absolutely loved my meal there. You should give it another shot! You can see my meal here if you’re interested:

    Looking forward to seeing where else you travel to!

  • Yao

    Your post was partly responsible for my recent meal at Cyrus… I wanted to see it for myself. Besides that, I was also curious about Keane’s friendship with David Kinch and his fellowship in Japan – I wondered how these influences would rub off on him. In general, I (fortunately) had a markedly different experience from you. Service was very good and unobtrusive. Food was somewhat heavy-handed, but generally well-executed. Reminded me of American fine-dining in the late 90s and early 00s – a pleasant little time warp.