In the kitchen of the year-old restaurant Cyrus, co-owners Douglas Keane and Nick Peyton are debating whether last night's special martini, crowned with a slice of $1,700-a-pound white Alba truffle, was excessive. Peyton, the maître d', shrugs and says he "didn't get it." Keane, the chef, loves that "it was over the top." No question it was over the top—Keane gets such a kick out of lavishing his customers with luxurious ingredients that even his business partner can't begrudge him.
Keane, 34, and Peyton, 58, are refugees from the San Francisco dining scene—they first worked together at Restaurant Gary Danko in 1999—and their arrival in the Sonoma town of Healdsburg, California, challenges all kinds of wine-country orthodoxy. For one thing, Keane's food is a departure from Sonoma's rustic culinary style, with its allegiance to regional, seasonal ingredients: He prefers old-world indulgences (caviar, foie gras, truffles), Asian flavors (yuzu, fermented black beans, curry paste) and classic French technique (lots of searing and sauces). Part of this is a reaction against the ethos of letting ingredients speak for themselves that chefs all over America, influenced by Northern California pioneers like Alice Waters of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, have been repeating like a mantra. "It's a great tomato," says Keane. "Well, do something with it. Why are you paying me?" Sure, he could make a perfectly delicious risotto using just red wine and meat stock, but why stop there? "I use more truffles and more butter to make it richer," he says. "Then I make a Parmesan broth, reduce it, aerate it, and use it as a froth surrounding the risotto." Is that all? "Now I throw a slice of truffle on, 'cause I'm a nice guy."
In a part of the country best known for its laid-back approach to the good life, Cyrus's 65-seat dining room, with its vaulted ceilings of waxed Venetian plaster, conjures a formal European restaurant. The modern cooking and ingredients come swagged in old-world elegance: Coriander-lime broth is poured tableside and there's a preprandial Champagne and caviar trolley with varieties like Uruguayan osetra. But Peyton makes all this formality feel playful at the same time. The approach is freewheeling: You can choose any dishes from any areas of the menu for your three-, four-, five- or seven-course dinner. Want seven desserts and nothing else? Done.