The Return of Cyrus
After a seemingly interminable odyssey, the wait is indeed over.
Cyrus, the acclaimed fine-dining restaurant that closed in Healdsburg in 2012 after a landlord dispute, finally reopened again last September in a striking new iteration in Geyserville.
Chef-Owner Doug Keane, co-owner Nick Peyton, and their team couldn’t be more relieved and thrilled to be back at it again. Neither can their legions of fans, so many of whom considered the original Cyrus their favorite restaurant.
The original Cyrus garnered two Michelin stars. The new one already scored one star — barely two months after opening.
Keane spent a decade searching high and low through the Alexander Valley, which was founded by the restaurant’s namesake Cyrus Alexander. He had all but given up when this site came available. Though this sleek contemporary glass, steel and concrete building is the polar opposite of the restaurant’s original Old World provincial aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting place in this new age and time. At least, that’s what I found when I finally had the opportunity last week to dine here.
At $295 per person (with a $250 wine pairing), the new Cyrus like the old Cyrus is definitely a special occasion place. The Geyserville restaurant does offer a less expensive option: a no-reservations-required Bubbles Lounge, where one can enjoy wines, cocktails, and posh snacks.
Keane has assembled a crew of familiar Bay Area names: Chef Drew Glassell, who cooked at the original Cyrus; Pastry Chef Josh Gaulin, a veteran of Quince in San Francisco; and Wine Director Cyrus Schultz, formerly of Orchard City Kitchen and Be.Steak.A, both in Campbell, and Yountville’s The French Laundry.
While Keane has never wavered in his vision for Cyrus during the past 10 years, I admittedly was a little skeptical about how a tasting menu fashioned into a progressive dinner would work, as diners make their way through various rooms in the former Sunsweet packing plant for different parts of the meal.
Would it feel forced? Rushed? Too orchestrated? Way too pretentious?
The answer was “no” to all of the above. In fact, I rather marveled at how natural it felt to actually dine this way.
You start in the lounge, which like the rest of the restaurant, is done up in modern and moody dark charcoal and black. This is where you’ll find a version of the signature Champagne cart for which the original Cyrus was noted. It’s also where you can perch at a 15-foot long, 1,600-pound cantilevered steel table that looks as if it’s floating in air.
This is where you’ll enjoy a series of one-bite canapes that spotlight the five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. And do they ever.
The succulent poached lobster with avocado and Thai dressing with pickled mango is a big jolt of tanginess that awakens the palate. The gougere with a gooey center of warm Comte fondue (for the salty) is so cheesy wonderful that you only wish it were 10 times larger because you would surely keep devouring it. The salsify and rye tart offers up a taste of bitter with its intense coffee cream filling. Umami comes in the form of a soothing, warm shiitake broth with lemongrass. Lastly, there’s sweet, concentrated in persimmon glazed with hoisin and huckleberry.
The kitchen sent out a gift of steamed egg custard with 10-month-aged Osetra caviar ($125 on the lounge menu.) So creamy and light in texture, it was like eating a rich tasting cloud, albeit one accented with briny, tiny sea grapes (a type of seaweed) and the lovely floralness of yuzu foam. I don’t know when I’ve ever had so much caviar in one individual dish. It may not be evident from the photo above, but the caviar was not merely dolloped on top, but actually continued all the way through to the bottom of the dish.
After that introduction, your designated dining captain for the night escorts you past the interior wine cellar and into the kitchen. There, you’re seated at a communal, u-shaped counter with a bird’s eye view of all the cooks.
A long platter of pickles is set before you with spicy kimchi, pickled radish, and quail eggs with jammy yolks.
Keane comes by each setting to pour warm soy milk into individual bowls, which after a few minutes will set up into tofu. You’re instructed to leave it alone until it gels, as Keane comes by periodically to add blood orange, black garlic, and freeze-dried soy sauce to it. When it’s finally ready, you dig a spoon into what is the lightest, most delicate tofu you’ve ever had. Barely set and with a slightly foamy top, it has a natural sweetness. You find gold when you hit a piece of chewy, savory, molasses-like black garlic.
A cup of mussel-infused billi bi, creamy, buttery, briny, and with a touch of fennel pollen, warms the hands as you grasp the earthenware cup and vanquishes all cares in the world upon the first soothing sip. Tennen buri or wild yellowtail is prized at this time of year when its fat content is highest. Here, it’s served raw, letting its clean yet rich taste shine with velvety sweet potato puree and passion fruit.
Next, sweet blue crab that gets spiced up with gochujang. Puffed forbidden rice grains are strewn over the top to add pops of crunch.
Then comes one large white shrimp that’s smoky and sweet, with crunchy bits of fried icefish, and a dollop of edamame puree.
Finally, a cube of quivering pork belly dotted with pine nuts and nori, and sweetened with Shaoxing wine. It’s so downright dreamy that you can’t help but savor every bit of its delicious fatty juices that linger on the tongue. If you opt for the wine pairing, you’ll much enjoy the accompanying Sante Adairius Amongst Friends barrel-aged saison from Capitola. It’s fizzy, tart, floral and has a vivid magenta hue from cherry juice and cherry blossoms.
At this juncture of the meal, you’re encouraged to get up and walk around the kitchen to get a closer look at ingredients and equipment, if you like.
You can even mosey over into the next building across the way, which houses the pastry team and dish polishing station.
Then, it’s time for the main courses in the dining room, where you’re seated at your own table, which is yours for the night. A heavy ceramic lidded steamer is set on the table that holds warm, pillowy Chinese steamed buns. Slather on creamy butter made with Kyoto white miso that’s actually lower in salt that most.
While my dining companions were served a seared scallop dish, I had the same preparation minus the scallop (owing to my allergy) with crunchy little balls of roasted sunchoke standing in instead. Sweet, dashi-braised lettuce was front and center, propping up a piece of luxurious seared foie gras that brought out a caramelized soy quality in the accompanying glass of vintage 1977 dry Madeira.
A 2018 Roccheviberti Bricco Boschis Barolo was poured from an artsy decanter, a natural pairing for risotto cooked in red wine and crowned with Parmesan froth. A mound of white Alba truffle was shaved tableside ($125), adding a garlicky note plus a heightened tanginess to the wine in this substantial dish.
The last savory course was A5 Wagyu strip loin, tender and intensely beefy tasting, alongside tender turnips and a cigar of rolled kale. Umeshu, the Japanese liqueur made from ume plum, flavored the savory consomme at the bottom of the dish that we spooned up happily.
The cheese course included a play on parsnip with moist parsnip cake, parsnip chips, and parsnip cream, paired with house-made hoshigaki, and a touch of black truffle. A round of soft-ripened Jasper Hills Harbison arrives warm in a separate crock. Ridiculously good with a gooey center, it’s buttery like brie but with a woodsy and nutty taste.
That’s followed by a pre-dessert, a kind of palate cleanser of refreshing Buddha’s Hand sorbet with slippery-fun coconut water gelee cubes and tiny, crunchy coconut tuilles.
The real dessert is a beautiful, moist and tender black walnut and date cake with a puddle of banana molasses caramel, and oat milk-sunchoke anglaise. It’s just sweet enough with a hint of savoriness, along with a comforting quality from the banana.
After finishing those last bites, a server comes by to introduce herself as our “chocolate captain.” Can I just say that I want that job title?
What happens next is straight out of “Willy Wonka,” which happens to be a favorite character of Keane’s. You’re led back toward the entrance of the restaurant, where a door built into a wall hides in plain sight. It opens to reveal an 8-foot-tall wall of 100 pounds of cascading chocolate with the Cyrus logo shining on it. The aroma alone is intoxicating.
Your chocolate captain is here with you, probably to make sure you don’t stick your open mouth under all that chocolate. Instead, there are skewers of dark chocolate-sesame-matcha squares to enjoy.
Off to one side is a revolving platform of stacked mignardises boxes that looks as if it’s spinning in midair — a nod back to the dramatic table in the lounge.
Your own box of chocolates is already packed in a small black bag to take home, along with a copy of that night’s menu. As like the start of the meal with the canapes, the chocolates are designed to highlight the five primary tastes.
Thus, the experience has come full circle and beyond. So, too, has the incredible journey of Cyrus.