At the entrance to an intimate, low-lit dining room rendered grand by its cloistered ceiling and walls of Venetian plaster, the hostess welcomes a party of two, announces their arrival to the chef, and leads the guests to their white-linen-covered table that soon will teem with crystal. Within moments, maître d’ Nick Peyton wheels forth the Champagne and caviar cart and proceeds to describe its enticing cargo, from which he recommends a 1999 vintage from California’s Russian River Valley paired with paddlefish caviar. The waitstaff, attired in black suits and gold neckties, subsequently delivers chef Douglas Keane’s amuse bouches and canapés: a spoon of eggplant mousse, truffled red-wine risotto with garlic chips and a froth of Parmesan, small pots of English and Hawaiian sea salts, and soft, crusty bread.
Since opening in March, Cyrus, a California-French restaurant in Sonoma County’s new Les Mars hotel, has earned comparisons to the French Laundry and other Napa Valley establishments. Such accolades, while not undeserved, are unheard-of for a restaurant in Healdsburg—or, for that matter, in any town in this largely rural region. Despite its celebrity as a producer of wines and cheeses, Sonoma County, unlike its neighbor to the east, never has been known for gourmet dining. With Cyrus, however, owners Peyton and Keane (both formerly of Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco and current proprietors of Market in Saint Helena) have created a stronghold of impeccable service and cuisine that at once reveres and transcends this rustic stretch of California wine country.
Cyrus patrons select three, four, or five courses, or the seven-course tasting menu (the format is prix fixe), and then sit back and savor Keane’s cuisine. A peanut-crusted foie gras, served with grapes that offset the oil and salt, melts on the tongue. The grouper in emulsified sherry vinaigrette bears a buttery crust that contrasts beautifully with the dish’s sweet corn. Keane even applies his subtle style to hearty Southern fare, such as roast pork with bacon foam presented atop black-eyed peas, mustard greens, dandelion, and a fried green tomato. Sommelier Jason Alexander, who worked with Keane and Peyton at Restaurant Gary Danko, pairs the chef’s creations with wines from a 600-selection list that celebrates local vintages yet spans all of the world’s significant wine-producing regions.
Perhaps the highlight of an evening at Cyrus is the tray of artisanal cheeses that Peyton presents near the close of the meal. The maître d’ speaks authoritatively on the 20 or so varieties that, like the restaurant’s wines, hail from regions near and far. “We honor Sonoma,” says Peyton, “but to me, great things come from all over the world.” Owing to Cyrus, more such worldly delights now await discovery in Sonoma County.