Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pick Cyrus

Move over, Thomas Keller. On a recent overly decadent weekend, Zack and I tried the French Laundry and Cyrus on back to back nights. The French Laundry left very very many things to be desired. Cyrus was a knockout wonderful experience.

This wasn't my first time at Keller's famed Yountville joint. But it will certainly be my last. We arrived for a 7:30pm Saturday evening seating. The restaurant was packed. They have added more table tops than when I was last here, cramming every possible bit of the floor's surface area with a $300 revenue-generating seat. In the center of the room sat a large party. . . with a crying infant. I didn't realize fine dining now comes with a high chair and the soothing sound effects of a screaming child.

And in the back cove, while we picked at the smattering of foraged wild weeds on our measly starter platers, a private party was treated to special deluxe dishes like an entire roast pheasant. Of course, the regular diner can't order this because it's not on the "no-substitution" tasting menu. If you thought you were special because you managed to survive the gauntlet of getting a reservation at TFL - be warned, there's an entirely new hierarchy of ostentation surrounding what you get to eat when you arrive.

Travel over the mountains and into Healdsburg, in the more-understated Sonoma County, however, and you'll be delighted with the best of the fine dining experiences to be found in Wine Country. Cyrus, nestled in the Les Mars Hotel, is lovely. It is fine food at its best, every bite was delectable and delightfully presented. The service and ambiance are elegant but understated. You feel as though you're in Northern California, where casual and polished come together in the best ways possible. And it's all very accessible - would-be diners can make reservations easily over OpenTable rather than wrestling with endlessly busy phone lines, a cold hostess, or elite cardmember concierge services.

I can opine more on specific dishes later, but suffice to say it was all really good. And so tastefully sincere and fresh - none of the ridiculous pomp of bitty foraged weeds and flowers or micro-portions. For now, let's let the main point stand: next time you're planning on a splurge in Northern California's wine regions, pick the local favorite over the staid and dated option. Cyrus is the way to go.

29 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448