Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ode to the end of the pretzel croissant

My very last pretzel croissant, the morning after
The pretzel croissant is a strange beast: the lithe, flaky body of a croissant encased in the lacquered, chewy exterior of a pretzel.

It's also one of the best breads I've ever had, and is yet another reason to miss Sonoma County's best restaurant, Cyrus, which is closing Oct. 28 because a new landlord wants a chef more interested in serving wines from the wineries the landlord owns.

Cyrus' Doug Keane, a Europhile drinker and a Japanophile chef, is always generous with his cooking instructions. He once brought a whole lobe of foie gras, before that became a criminal act in California, to a house dinner I attended in St. Helena and showed us how simple it is to fry it up. He also showed us how to make simple, delicious corn soup, shaving the kernels of fresh sweet corn off the cob and cooking with a little water, milk and salt.

But the pretzel croissant is well beyond the capacity of home chefs, even the obsessive ones I've worked with. It's an 8-hour process, including the use of lye on the pretzel dough. I told a Cyrus manager that I know some cooks who would spend the 8 hours, and she added that it requires a $15,000 piece of pretzel-making equipment specially ordered for this 2-1/2-inch morsel. So forgive me for not including a recipe.

I debated about whether to write about it at all. I decided by doing so I would preserve it forever on the Internet, in case Keane doesn't bring together the same baking team at wherever he cooks next.

Chorizo crusted scallop with sweet corn and lobster froth
Cyrus in its final five weeks offers only tasting menus, 5-course or 8-course, omnivore or vegetarian, mostly composed of the restaurant's greatest hits. As we may never eat Keane's cooking again we of course opted for the 8-course omnivore ($150) with the wine pairing (another $150; highlights were a perfectly balanced Jean Foillard 2008 Fleurie and a better Marsala than I thought was possible, from Marco de Bartoli).

You may think that sounds expensive, but it's half the price of the French Laundry for a meal we enjoy more. Everything is less formal and more fun at Cyrus. Don't get me wrong, I love the Laundry, but it has the feeling of being a participant in a dining stage play, and it's not a comedy.

At Cyrus, the waiter made fun of my wife and I for leaning forward to hear the description of the bonus mignardises on the enormous cart wheeled to every diner after the first two dessert courses. He also did a fist-bump (are those still terrorist fist bumps?) with me when I sympathized over the restaurant's closing.

Yet there was still precision service; our dishes of Australian wagyu beef on mung bean sprouts being placed simultaneously; the waiter immediately offering me an '09 Mongeard-Mugneret Vosne Romanée when I said I didn't care for the overripe '00 Brunello di Montalcino poured with it; the seamless simultaneous pouring of mussel broth over sliced grilled abalone.

Our menu, updated with our wine pairings and emailed to me
Our waiter, in his 8th year at Cyrus, later confessed that if he had been pouring the anise-scented mussel broth, he might have given us a short pour as it's his favorite soup. It was only my third favorite. The second was the lovely matsutake-dashi broth on a pile of the aromatic mushrooms sliced thin like truffles. The first was the first thing I put in my mouth, a small sake cup of outrageously aromatic mushroom broth, meant to demonstrate the meaning of umami. Keane's opening amuse bouche brings one swallow of each of the major taste sensations to awaken the palate. We disputed that the miniature okonomiyaki was really sour, but the dewdrop of strawberry essence on a spoon that burst when it touched my mouth was wonderfully sweet.

Many of these delights don't count as one of the 8 courses. And neither does the bread. There were 8 breads; I also loved a potent garlic sourdough roll and an unusual miniature salty brioche. People around us were fans of the epi. Yet once I tried the pretzel croissant, I had to have another. And another. Despite needing to save myself for the frozen and shattered cream cheese and yuzu ice cream, I had four of the tiny croissants, and the kitchen thoughtfully packed up two more for me to enjoy the next morning, along with all the mignardises we didn't finish.

So now I'm typing this up, having eaten one pretzel croissant, with one left in the box. I will take a photo of it. And then I will eat it. The last one I'll ever have. I need to stop typing now, because as much as I have tried to do justice to this morsel, there is no substitute for the one-two-third-and-final bite sensory experience.

(Cyrus' last night is Oct. 28. Reservation information is here.)

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Pinotgraves said...

But it's not gluten-free!

Jack Everitt said...

Wow, Cedric Bouchard with the cheese course!

W. Blake Gray said...

You know, Jack, I confess, I didn't love the Cedric Bouchard. It was more of an intellectual pleasure than a visceral one, and the Marsala was so mindblowing.

You're only supposed to get one, and I surely would have chosen the Champagne, so I'm grateful they brought a half-pour of both.

Joanna Breslin said...

I am very thankful to have enjoyed two stellar dinners at Cyrus. It is sad that the landlord, graciously not identified by you, would not want a restaurant of this quality, which has a draw and name that would benefit him, to anchor his hotel. I never had the pretzel croissant, alas, but I do have the memory and the menus of two of the best meals I have had.