The revolution will be veget-ized.
Following in the footsteps of the French Laundry and an increasing demand for haute herbivore dining, Michelin-rated Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg has recently unveiled five and eight course vegetarian tasting menus, prominently showcased next to their regular tasting menu — charging the exact same price for both ($130 for eight courses, $102 for five).
Huh? Because for a whole lot of folks shelling out a fist-full of cash for a once-in-a-blue-moon destination dinner, the idea of missing out on foie gras, duck, lobster and (sniff) Waygu beef is, well, treason. If not worse. Seriously? Cauliflower soup over Thai-marinated lobster. Uh, right.
But not everyone sees it that way. An increasing number of high-end diners want critter-free eats for health, environmental and personal reasons. Keane says on a typical night the restaurant would get five or more diners wanting a meatless option to his carefully crafted omnivore menu. So he’d cobble together something — whatever he could adapt on the fly — and serve it. Not happily. Exacting in his process, Keane wanted his vegetable-only courses to have the same gravitas as his other dishes, and shooting from the hip each night was difficult for the kitchen staff to effectively manage.
In January 2009 the restaurant announced a vegetarian tasting option as one of two prix fixe menus. A la carte service has been discontinued entirely (yup). Diners can cross over between the two tasting menus at will.
Though it’s a change, it’s not quite the leap into the unknown one might think. Keane’s classic French cooking is studded with Japanese ingredients and flavors that lend themselves easily to plant-based dishes. His use of his farm’s own fresh produce and eggs, along with copious amounts of cream and butter make the meatless menu just as complete and impressive as the regular menu. E
Even BiteClub started drinking the Kool Aid. Not at first, but taste by taste of the clean, earthy and wild flavors of Keane’s winter vegetarian menu. While I hadn’t really given the veggie-version much of a second thought while doing the grand-tasting a few weeks ago (cha, right!), curiosity got the best of me while photographing the vegetarian menu.
These aren’t steamed veggies and tofu. Okay, in fact, they are, but in dressed a whole lot fancier. Keane uses the same sous-vide (a sort of slow poach in plastic bags) techniques, table side preparations, foams, complex flavor profiles and far-flung ingredients used on the regular menu. For example, a Japanese brine that coagulates his house-made soy milk into tofu in less than five minutes. While you watch.
The current menu includes cauliflower soup with capers and raisins; roasted beets with goat cheese, arugula and pistachios; a poached egg with Hijiki noodles, pickled Honshimiji mushrooms and sea stock; tofu with Kombu (kelp) scallions and yuzu; truffled red wine risotto with parmesan broth; verjus sorbet with quince Riesling soup (with crystallized picholine olives) and a dessert combination of tiramisu, a cappuccino filled orb surrounded by foam, caramelized fennel and espresso gelato.
So why are veggies the same price as the meatier menu? Keane says that the preparation involved is the same, if not more intense, for the vegetarian dishes as the standard menu. Which makes sense when you think about it. You’re paying for food as art. Not by the pound.
Compared side-by-side, there are actually dishes that I preferred on the vegetarian menu for their uncompromised flavors and careful preparation: the creamy poached egg and noodles for one, and the heart-breakingly good risotto.
Change can be a good thing. After experiencing the talents of Keane and those of Ubuntu, there’s no doubt that meatless dining can be miraculous. Just don’t take away my foie gras yet. Please.
Cyrus Restaurant, 29 North St., Healdburg, 707.433.3311. Make a reservation.