February 16, 2009

Sonoma Wine and Food Weekend

Because E's sister, her fiance, and the sisters had raved so much about their meal, on December 14, I called Cyrus to see if E & I could get a table for Valentine's dinner. Success! I reserved two free rooms we'd earned in Hyatt points and our plans were set for the long weekend.

Fortuitously, I've been working entirely too much lately. I've taken several conference calls 'til midnight and often have been rising before 5 to start work. So, a long weekend to reconnect with E in wine country was just what the doctor ordered.

Plus, on Friday, the IT department of my law firm saw fit to break email at 5 PM. Sweet! I was off the hook for the entire weekend by 5 PM (except today). Thanks IT!

So, after arriving, instead of finishing work, E and I headed down to the complimentary wine tasting with Simi Winery. Their wines were okay, except they were free, so, of course, like all gifts, they were quite wonderful. The chardonnay was not my style (but they usually aren't -- too buttery). But I had a perfectly pleasant glass of sauvignon blanc, while E enjoyed the cabernet sauvignon. They even served us an appetizer of asian chicken on endive with fried rice noodles. How great is that?

From there, we headed to the hotel bar and ordered two lovely glasses of wine to go with the charcuterie plate (mmm... salamis, cheeses and nuts. What's not to like?) One of the best things about wine country is that even the random hotel bar will have 20 excellent wines by the glass. This bar even had 2.5 ounce pours so you could try more options if you like. My pinot was excellent and E's big red explosion of a wine was exactly what he was looking for.

After lounging a bit, we headed to an early dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel. It was everything we like a hotel restaurant to be. Close. Good food and service. Unpretentious, but nice enough to have foods that feel like special occasion treats. Not super-expensive.

I devoured my oysters, they were perfectly cleaned and pre-separated from the shell, which meant I had to share. I love the little suckers so much that I'll shuck 'em myself and deal with the sand for the privilege, but E is a bit more picky. We sat and enjoyed our meals (steak for E, salmon over red pepper coulis for me) and slowly caught up over a bottle of delicious local pinot noir. There was still wine left after dinner, so we ordered the cheese plate. Mmmm.... more cheese. Then coffee. Then a lazy night in the hotel bed watching the latest Bond movie. Mmmm... relaxing.

Saturday was more of the same, only bigger.

We finally left the hotel around noon to head out for cheese, nuts, and chocolate paired with delicious wines served by the Williamson family (that would be the first wine club we joined).

From there, we had a lunch of small servings of family recipes of Italian food and a family history tour with wine at Seghesio (that would be the second wine club we joined). If you are going to go to Seghesio, call ahead and reserve the wine and food pairing. We bypassed a tasting room of at least 50 guests in exchange for a one-on-one conversation with the 5th generation family member and daughter of the winemaker (thanks Alison!), as well as some history from Rachel Ann Seghesio, an adorable 70-year-old woman with pictures to show, stories to tell, and a ton of spunk.

We very much enjoyed both of these wine-tasting experiences and we pleased that they were smaller, less thronged, and just generally relaxing, which is something we often fear we will miss while trying to wine-taste with the crowds in Sonoma or Napa.

From there, we did the pure relaxation thing (hot tub, steam room, massage, reading) for a few hours until it was time for the big event.

Cyrus -- it was everything we were told, and more

Our dinner at Cyrus was nothing short of phenomenal. As much as I love Chez TJ, it pales in many ways compared to Cyrus, and if Cyrus is an example of a two-star michelin restaurant, then, I must agree with the recent downgrade of Chez TJ to one star (of course, my experience with two-starred Manresa was much worse than any Chez TJ visit, so perhaps of course the michelin stars don't really mean anything).

The service at Cyrus is dedicated -- you can tell they are *all* very committed to making sure that your evening is amazing. I'm not certain I've ever experienced that level of concern and care about my meal before. Not even at the French Laundry. It is very obvious that Cyrus has something to prove (in a good way) and is trying its very best to get its third michelin star and/or just to become the equal of the Laundry in the eyes of the foodies who come to the region.

The food is excellent, and I can see why E's sister and fiance said it was the best meal of their life. It was definitely one of the best meals I've ever had. In terms of quality and presentation, it is on par with everything we've ever had. In comparison with the French Laundry, the care in ingredient selection, preparation, plating, and balance was quite similar except that there was a stronger asian influence in many of the ingredient selections at Cyrus, whereas French Laundry seemed to stay within more of the traditional continental ingredient list on our visit.

We did the full 8-course tasting menu (which totals 11 courses including all the teasers and palate cleansers), E ate every speck, and I finished everything except the Quince Riesling Soup (below the Verjus Sorbet). When we left we were pleasantly full, but not uncomfortable. The food was rich, but balanced at all times, which is an area where Chez TJ occasionally falters on the side of the overly rich (not that we really mind...).

My favorite course was a line of 4 or 5 gnocchi alternated with carmelized brussels sprouts, parsley root and topped with black truffle pecorino, plated on a rectangular plate with a brilliant green sauce line drawn below. E's favorite was the 3 slices of duck breast fanned over maitake mushrooms laid on top of a small rectangular prism of bamboo-cilantro (I think) rice (it was such a pretty shade of light green) which was plated with ponzu. Every course was amazing, truly.

With a little help from the somellier, we selected a bottle of Anthill Farms 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that worked quite well with all of the courses. The service kept our glasses at what I have to assume is exactly 4 ounces throughout the meal. This had the odd side effect of making it very apparent when I poured the remainder of my wine into E's glass after the cheese course. No one said anything, they just whisked away my empty glass and asked if we would like coffee, which, of course, I did, and they brought it to me to enjoy while E finished the wine.

I think the highest compliment we can give it is this: we would be happy to return to Cyrus in the near future and look forward to the opportunity. In contrast, Michael Mina and the French Laundry are excellent experiences that we are glad we had, but we have no plans to return to them anytime soon, we'd rather search for a new and different experience.

Finally, we had brunch on Sunday with friends at The Girl and The Fig. The ambiance is warm (there is a fire) friendly, polite (despite our late arrival causing them to hold a 6-person table longer than they should have had to), and the food was wonderful -- a little on the heavy side, but that's what brunch is supposed to be, no? Plus, it was what we needed to soak up the wine we went to taste afterward.

In terms of Sunday's tasting -- it was mediocre in terms of wine, but a great way to spend the day with friends.

Jacuzzi winery is gorgeous, but it was thronged with folks for the olive tasting event. They have an olive press and several olive oils available for tasting. On a less crowded day, I suspect I would have enjoyed this one more and probably would have stayed to taste wine.

Next, we hit up Viansa Winery, which, like Jacuzzi is a beautiful setting and building. If it hadn't been raining, we likely would have bought a bottle and sat on the porch sipping it while looking at the hills and vines. But, due to the rain, we had to stay indoors, and due to the holiday weekend, they were quite crowded as well.

Finally, on our way out, we stopped at Roche Winery. Their building is older, the wine tasting room is simply that (very few displays of fancy food products and supplies), and the crowd was much smaller. Also, they had a fireplace with a nice warm fire. In terms of ambiance, this was the winner of the day. Their cabernet was probably the group's favorite wine of the day's tasting, but none of us took any home due to the price point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

reading this entry makes me hungry. :)