Last Friday night I had the pleasure of dining at one of the finest restaurants in northern California, Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg.
(I was also lucky enough to be treated to the dinner by friends visiting from Los Angeles… if you can get someone else to pay the bill, I highly recommend it!) While I had been told that the food and service were going to be wonderful, I had no idea how amazing my experience as a gluten-free diner was about to be.
My husband called ahead to let the restaurant know that 2 out of 4 in our party would be gluten free. Calling ahead is always a good idea when dining out — not only does it raise the awareness of the waitstaff, but it allows the chef to make any special arrangements if he/she so desires. At Cyrus, Chef Douglas Keane went way beyond our expectations! We were made to feel that we were special as opposed to being a burden.
Let me explain what was so special about our dinner (and hopefully some restaurant owners and chefs are reading this and taking notes!) First we were served “canapes” — tiny little bites of food, either to eat with your fingers or with teeny little spoons, meant to awaken your senses of taste before the meal. They were served on 2 towers of tiered plates. They told us that one of the towers was all gluten-free. It was evident right away that the chef understood gluten-free because one bite on the regular tower contained beer and was replaced with something else on the gluten-free tower. Several other little bites were replaced by a gluten-free ones also. Each gluten-free bite was as thoughtfully prepared, artfully presented, and delicious as the others. What an impression that made!
Usually when it is time for the bread or rolls to be brought to the table, I get ready to say “no thank you” before they set it down on my plate or on the table. This time I didn’t have to say no because when the waiter came around with a basket of rolls, he explained that he would be serving the gluten-free guests first and that the servers used on the bread had not touched any other bread yet. He proceeded to place a hot-out-of-the-oven baked roll (gluten-free!) on my plate. I have to admit I was a little shocked! And then I tasted it… heaven. Hot buttery heaven. Yes, I had another. (And another, later, with the cheese course — okay, I went a little overboard, but I was so excited!)
Next came caviar, ordered by our friends. Usually one would put caviar on some wheat-y thing like a cracker or potato cake, which often contains flour. When the caviar arrived, so did a plate of rice crackers and potato cakes (no flour) that were separated from the panko-crusted (i.e. gluten-crusted) cakes. Again, I was impressed by the level of understanding.
The appetizers and main courses were beyond delicious. I’m not going to describe each one because I could never do them justice. There were many gluten-free options to choose from, and they did make a substitution in one of the dishes that came with pasta, which was nice.
It was so
gratifying that a highly acclaimed restaurant was recognizing the need to serve gluten-free diners. What really stood out was their proactive approach. Not once did I have to say, “Can you ask the chef…” or “Could you just double-check?” When one (of the many) waitpersons brought the menu, she went through the menu with us, telling us what was gluten-free and what was not before we had to ask. When they brought a plate of various chocolates and other sweet things at the end of dinner, they said “All of these are okay for you.” One time I asked if a dark salty sauce that came drizzled on one of the small plates contained soy sauce, and the waitperson (a different one) politely assured me that it was gluten-free, that it was dark because it had been reduced for 4-5 hours, and not to worry, that the Chef knows what he is doing with regards to gluten-free. Yes, he really does, and this was one of the only times that I have thoroughly relaxed and enjoyed a meal in a restaurant without wondering and second-guessing.
After the chocolates came the offer of dessert. There were no gluten-free dessert items on the menu, but we were told that we could have a selection of ice creams and sorbets. We were too full for dessert anyway! And then they gave each one of us a little white and gold gift box with a brownie to take home. Yes folks, there were gluten-free brownies in ours.
As I was leaving the restaurant, I passed the maitre d’/owner, Nick Peyton, and expressed my thanks and kudos for accommodating us. He responded something like, “Thank you for letting us know ahead of time. We want you to have the same dining experience as everyone else.” Well, let me tell you something, I definitely had a better dining experience than everyone else!
Read an interview with Chef Douglas Keane!