It was bound to happen. It was like a laser-guided meteor locked on to the center of the Earth. Impact was inevitable.
If you spend enough time and money seeking out good food, eventually you are going to work your way ‘up’ to utter disappointment. You are going to go to one of those types of restaurants that you see depicted on some commercial, or TV show, or movie where some guy is trying to impress a girl by taking her to some fancy-pants restaurant only to find they are served in portions so small it’s comical, and they end up grabbing a burger afterward… with what little remains of their tattered bank account.
Ah, Cyrus, I remember you well… sort of.
It started innocently enough; why wouldn’t we go to the most highly rated restaurant in all of Sonoma County? We had already reserved a table for the following night at another very highly-rated (and highly-priced) restaurant in town for the next night, so we were going to take it easy tonight at Cyrus. ‘We’ll just buy a modestly price local Sonoma wine’, they said. ‘We’ll only order a la carte, not the full tasting menu’, they said. Upon arrival, we were seated quickly enough and given a wine list. To my great surprise, the cheapest Sonoma red is $60… for a half-bottle. Great. Nothing to set the tone of the evening like a place that knows you want to get a decent local wine so they hyper-inflate the price and see if they can’t reel in some rubes. I felt like I had taken my future-space-robot-child to future-space-robot-Disney World and the little punk wanted to buy some piece of shit Mickey Mouse leisure suit for a million space bucks. It smelled like a con, actually it smelled pretty good in there but I felt like I was being scammed. I knew how I’d fix this problem I’d have the sommelier swing by and recommend to me one of finest, cheapest French wines (slightly less expensive than the Sonoma wines). He did, and to his credit he seemed very knowledgeable (and young for a sommelier). The wine was good, not great, a little shallow with a fair amount of minerality, but he implied that when describing it to us.
So we ordered a handful of dishes at a little over $20 a plate. We figured we were being smart since the a la carte menu was the same as the tasting menu, and there were several things on the tasting menu that didn’t look especially appealing to us. Plus we didn’t want to stuff ourselves with what looked to be a very filling eight-course tasting menu. When the first couple dishes came out, I was surprised to find they were bite-sized (I think I could have literally fit each dish into my mouth, some of them easily). I know the theory, you feed them just enough to get a taste and then leave them hanging till the next dish, constantly piquing the interest of the taste buds and then smacking them across the face with a pair of Isotoners and screaming ‘no soup for you’. Unfortunately, my mind is too rational for this cuisine. If I like something, I want more of it. While it’s cute that you’ve made a foam out of something that clearly has no place being a foam, I’d rather you spend your time and efforts fixing me up a larger portion of something delicious. At some point, the novelty of the food so exceedingly surpasses the taste and nutritive nature of it, that something clicks over in your brain and you are just left feeling unsatisfied. I think if we go down this road too far, consumption at these restaurants will consist of putting on a helmet; a carefully prepared series of rice crisps and varying-density gelatin will be injected into the subjects mouth, nasal implants will provide synthesized odorants, and a silent swedish film will be displayed to stimulate the visual cortex. Buon appetito.
I do believe that the portion sizes in general need to be decreased, but I don’t want to be made to feel like Oliver Twist in a prisoner-of-war camp.
What I do remember of the food was a nice little bite of sashimi, truffle mashed potatoes (though I declined the offer to have a gram of truffles grated over the already decadent dish for the bargain price of $18), and the cheese plate. Surprise, surprise, the favorites were some really simple dishes prepared with care.
The food was good but it really wasn’t deserving of the hype. I’m not one to go to a place to be able to have said I went there or one who likes to spend money to try to make myself feel important, but I got the impression I was in the minority with the patrons of Cyrus. To be clear, my complaint is not with the price but with the value. We spend as much, actually more, a few days later at Chez Pannisse in Berkeley and I remember saying to myself, “if the people who live in the area don’t come to this restaurant at least once a week they are either fools or they need to get another job or two to pay for it’. Berkeley had some nice wooded areas that would be perfect to stash a tent; the money saved on rent should be able to easily cover the once a week pilgrimage to the house that Alice Waters built.
Service was great, food was good, atmosphere was meh, value was terrible. If you want to get a visual on the portion sizes, here is a blog by someone who seems to have been far more impressed by the place than we were.
The next night we went to Dry Creek Kitchen. It was much more reasonably priced, if still expensive, but it was exceptionally unimpressive. There was nothing memorable about anything we ordered except that it wasn’t worth remembering. They don’t charge corkage for Sonoma wines so we brought one we had purchased that day. Somehow the wine tasted totally different (not in a good way) at dinner than it did when we were biking around the area, sampling wines, dehydrated and intoxicated.
Ok, and while I’m venting about food in this one-horse-town; we went to a little taqueria hoping to finally grab some authentic tacos al pastor cooked on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo. Like every other place they just had marinated pork chunks to be thrown on flat top. I asked where I could get the real thing, she said I might try San Diego… et tu, amiga?