Our nearly yearly trip north to wine country gives us a chance to visit one of our favorite restaurants in Northern California, Cyrus. This fall we dined at the two Michelin starred Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg for a third time. We enjoyed our meal at Cyrus on our first visit. Our second visit really cemented our enthusiasm for the restaurant. We were eagerly looking forward to our return.
Our reservation was at 9:00 pm. We arrived in Healdsburg around 5, checked in to the Duchamp Hotel, and headed to Cyrus for early cocktails. Usually we don’t have cocktails before dinner. Alcohol before dinner dulls the palate. But, in this case, our dinner was much later and we had heard a lot about the cocktails at Cyrus. We had to try the drinks.
Cocktails at Cyrus are not your standard well drinks. The cocktail program at Cyrus was shaped by Scott Beattie who has since left. Famous for sourcing ingredients from across neighbor’s fences, Beattie’s cocktails are a combination of the expression of the flavors of the fresh products and the imaginative mixing of a variety of the best ingredients. The result is unique drinks that are ripe with flavor.
Before the weekend was over, we would try all five of the specialty cocktails on the “Fall” menu. Our first two drinks, the Halloween themed “Ichabod’s Revenge” and “Grapes of Wrath,” along with the “Gravenstein Appellation,” which we sampled later, were our favorites. Ichabod’s Revenge captures the flavors of the season in a cocktail but somehow makes it all seem new and fresh. If this were the inspiration to reinvent the pumpkin pie, the result might just be the best pumpkin pie ever.
The Grapes of Wrath is all about the grapes. The combination of the ripe and unripe grapes from the fresh pressed cabernet grapes and red verjus recalls the smell of walking through the vineyards and wineries at harvest time. Imagine tasting the juice of wine grapes, pressed and left on the stems and skins for a day, filtered, and mixed with a modest amount of vodka and you’d get a rough idea of what the drink tastes like.
It’s all about the distinctive flavor of Gravenstein apples in the “Gravenstein Appellation.” If you weren’t a fan of the Healdsburg area’s local apples, you will be after you try this drink. This drink leaves you looking for orchards and contemplating theft of the apples from the farmer’s trees as you drive down the road.
With all the cocktails, we had the crisp and tasty deep-fried lobster off of the bar menu. I can’t imagine a menu item with “deep-fried” and “lobster” in the description that would be wrong. If you visit Healdsburg, be sure to check out the cocktail bar at Cyrus.
After a break in the room and a walk for Nick, it was time for dinner. At Cyrus, Becky chose the “Vegetarian Tasting Menu” with the option of aromatic white truffles shaved on to the top of the Pumpkin Tagliarini. I chose the “Tasting Menu.” With both menus, we had the pre-arranged wine pairing. Chef Douglas Keane’s food, particularly for the early courses, combines Western-Continental with Japanese flavors and ingredients. The fusion tends mostly toward the Western end of the taste continuum with rays of acidity and flavors of the distinctive Japanese ingredients coming through. As you proceed through the Tasting Menu, the dishes become progressively become more traditionally Western-Continental.
As we typically do, Becky and I shared most of the dishes on our two menus. It seems to us that vegetarian tasting menus, when they are offered, are often more creative than the traditional menus. This was the case at Cyrus. Perhaps not having to offer protein-based dishes frees up the chefs to be more creative and to move away from the traditional styles. Who knows? For us, we like the combination of the two menus. It gives us more to taste and experience.
We rolled out of the restaurant well after midnight. For us, the meal wasn’t quite to the level of our last visit a year prior. Maybe the flavors weren’t as sharp coming out of the kitchen. Or it could be that our palates weren’t as perceptive this time. Or it could be that meal was very similar in form to our last visit and the surprise factor was missing. We can’t say. In the end, the meal was excellent and Cyrus is worth the visit.
Though I often disagree with the Michelin rankings, I have to agree that Cyrus’s two star rating is about right. Though we like Cyrus better than some of the three Michelin-starred restaurants we have visited but there are also some two-starred restaurants we prefer. I’d give it 2.376 Michelin stars, more or less. For us, Cyrus would not worth be traveling half way across the globe to visit, but a two-hour drive from the Bay Area is more than justified. Cyrus is one of the best restaurants in Northern California.