Locals bid Cyrus goodbye
Sunday marked the final dinner service at Healdsburg’s famed Cyrus Restaurant, one of the area’s most decorated restaurants and yet, say many local dining enthusiasts, one of the most welcoming.
Chef Douglas Keane and Nick Peyton announced this summer they agreed to close after settling a nearly two-year dispute with Bill Foley, the new owner of the Les Mars Hotel where Cyrus has resided since it opened to rave reviews in March 2005.
Since the announcement in July, the restaurant has been booked solid and Sunday night was no exception as the small bar area filled up shortly after the doors opened for the last time at 5:30 p.m. The dining room had been sold out for weeks.
There was both a party atmosphere and also a sense of melancholy as the last plates of “Thai Lobster with Avocado and Melon,” “Soup Billi-Bi with Aged Abalone, Fennel and Leeks” and “Steamed Matsutake with Myoga, Gingko and Mitsuba” came out of the kitchen, along with glasses of champagne and caviar plates — and special fois gras Keane had had prepared for the last-night guests. And of course the many specialty drinks from the bar.
Both Keane and Peyton reflected on the final days recently and on their decision to open in Healdsburg at a time when the number of fine-dining restaurants in Sonoma were few and far between.
“They said we’d never find the right people to work here, that they were all in the city,” said Peyton. “Well, this was the best staff I’ve ever worked with. Period. The absolute best.”
Both said they had always wanted Cyrus to be welcome to locals. Indeed, there were many in the dining room and bar on the final night. They came in for one last meal or drink, to take in the atmosphere and to say goodbye.
“I met so many wonderful people here at Cyrus,” said Doralice Handal, owner of the Healdsburg Cheese Shop. “It’s an incredibly unique place but not just because the food and service were so amazing. You could just go and sit at the bar and talk to people and make friends.”
One couple, longtime weekend residents who moved to Healdsburg fulltime one month ago, have dined at Cyrus so many times – 35 to be exact – that they are known by first names Leonard and John.
“It’s the best food I’ve ever had,” Leonard said. “The level of service .. it was just so unpretentiousness, so comfortable. The staff always made you feel at home. I’m going to miss it terrible.”
The restaurant earned many accolades for its food and service and has the distinction of being the only Sonoma County restaurant awarded two Michelin stars. S.F. Chronicle critic Michael Bauer rated Cyrus with four stars, the paper’s highest rating and it has been listed in Gourmet Magazines’ Top Fifty Restaurants. Chef Keane was named Esquire’s Chef of the Year in 2005. And in 2009, he was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef Pacific. Peyton is known throughout the restaurant industry as one of the top “front-of-the-house” managers and was nominated for a Beard Award for service last year.
Both Keane and Peyton said the original plan was to be open for several more years at least but they also said they were content with the decision to move on. Both said they’d take some time off before deciding what to do next.
“We’re not done yet,” Peyton said, who added his heart was with his staff, many of whom had been with the restaurant since it opened. “They were the lifeblood of this restaurant. They made it what it was and I’m grateful to every one of them. It was a family, a real family.”
The two will continue to oversee the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, which they took over five years ago.
Keane was recently certified as a dog trainer and has been working with Green Dog Rescue Project (http://www.greendogproject.com/), a non-profit organization that helps to socialize shelter dogs, which he says he’ll continue.
But no matter what his future holds, Keane, who knew little about Healdsburg before he moved here to open Cyrus, said he has found his home.
“From the moment I arrived, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” he said. “I got here and I put my feet up on the picnic table, opened a beer and sat in the middle of this ranch with my dog and I thought “this is where I belong.” I wanted people to come to my restaurant and feel the same way.”