The first time I visited C.C. in San Francisco, I don’t really remember eating all that much. C.C. was new to the city and establishing herself as a freelancer. She worked at home and nibbled her way through the day with many little meals. C.C. hadn’t yet learned that San Francisco had the good food thing figured out better than most. I’m not even sure if she knew who Alice Waters was and she definitely had not heard of froth.
But as soon as I confirmed my ticket for this visit, C.C. swung into action and her BF planned a day for us in Napa and Sonoma. C.C.’s palate had come quite a long way in the four years since I had first seen the Pacific. The crown jewel of our day would be dinner at Cyrus, one of the best restaurants in the country. It has two Michelin stars, a famous chef, and there’s an intoxicating rumor that it’s actually better than its neighbor The French Laundry. This was going to be a meal of a lifetime.
The second we sat down at our table in a room so smooth and cozy I felt like a pearl earring in a jewelry box, I realized I was way out of my element. I was poised to eat a French/Asian/molecular gastronomic meal and all I could think of was childhood dinners with my grandfather and Uncle Sonny. The second my grandmother put food down on the table, they would hunch over their plates like quarterbacks and start shoveling pasta down their gullets. They wore dead-serious expressions and beads of sweat would break out on their foreheads. Needless to say, there was no talking because this was serious eating. What I was about experience at Cyrus was serious dining. Instead of a meal to fill your belly, this experience was more like a ballet or a symphony, every moment artfully choreographed, no detail left to its own devices.
We were pampered by a team of servers. One was dedicated to passing out freshly made bread, another to announcing each dish in the five-course tasting menu. One server was tasked with escorting a huge white truffle around the restaurant in a bespoke wooden box.
“Are you going to write about this meal on Good. Food. Stories.?” asked B.F., sipping a bowl of broth. It had been specifically crafted by the chef to activate the umami sweet spot in preparation for the abalone across the plate, beyond a line drawn in caviar, winking at him from underneath a shawl of froth.
At that moment, I really didn’t know how I could. I mean, was I supposed to evaluate perfection? Me? A humble blogger with a peasant palate? But as I’ve reflected on that dinner, I’ve thought of it less as a meal and more of an experience in high art. While a piece of music can leave one empty, and a painting in a museum inspire you only to think “well, I can do that,” it’s hard to escape the primal pleasure of food. And when I lifted a spoon of froth from a plate and saw that an indent had been sculpted there specifically for that tiny spoon, I laughed with giddiness unlike any I had felt since I was a young girl decorating my dollhouse.
I imagine the kitchen at Cyrus resembles a Swiss watch factory. Each dish was tiny, but every bite crafted to ring a different chord of satisfaction and I left so full I wanted to crawl to the car on my hands and knees. It wasn’t an experience I would want to have every day, but I’m damn grateful that C.C. and B.F. so generously provided the opportunity.
And just like a perfectly written screenplay, Cyrus ended the action with an ironic twist by sending us home with the best brownie ever.