Chalkboard, a new small-plates restaurant in Healdsburg, occupies the space that was Cyrus.
Where Cyrus was lush and very deluxe, Chalkboard is rustic. No tablecloths. Hard wooden chairs. Hollowed-out stones planted with succulent echeverias on the tables. The floors are bare wood.
But many of the built-in features of Cyrus remain, to the benefit of the new regime headed by Chef Shane McAnelly, who has master chef Doug Keane's personally-designed kitchen to work in. Cyrus's comfy full bar at the restaurant's entrance is almost the same, and the dining room's vaulted ceilings still make a bold architectural statement.
What's really different is the food. Keane's creations were haute cuisine, earning two Michelin stars and Best Chef Pacific from the James Beard Foundation. McAnelly's fare is wholesome California cooking with Sonoma County flair. Menus are seasonal, with vegetable, meat, and fish crudos, soups and salads, house-made pastas, and plenty of red and white wine flights. Among the 16 whites and 27 reds offered by the bottle, the 2011 "Dutton Ranch" chardonnay from Dutton Goldfield at $56 and the 2009 "Donna Chiara" aglianico from Colli di Lapio, Campania, at $52 stand out.
Many of the garden vegetables are sourced from the restaurant's three-acre organic potager at Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards, and what a treat that is for the cooks and the customers. Nothing beats the flavor of food just picked from the garden. But it's what you do with it that counts, and McAnelly has some good moves in his repertoire. For <strong>Pea Soup</strong> ($3 **?) for instance, he makes a soup base with onions, bay leaf, and mint and stirs in a puree of fresh garden peas. Now he puts a big pinch of Dungeness crabmeat in a shot glass and fills it with the chilled soup. It's refreshing, although a bit too salty.
From the Chalk Hill garden comes <strong>Fava Bean and Baby Artichoke Salad</strong> ($9 **?). <CW-36>The favas are boiled in their pods, then husked out of their grey jackets so they're tender and a bright, rich green. The baby artichokes could have used some kind of flash cooking or marinating, as their slices were chewy and tough to eat. The beans and chokes were mixed with little arugula, which is just hitting its stride right now. The leaves are still small, tender, and not nearly as aggressively peppery as they'll be later in the summer. The salad is dressed with a lemon citronette — basically a vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of vinegar so it's more wine-friendly — and topped with a snow of grated pecorino romano cheese.
</CW>From the menu's raw section came the <strong>Hamachi Crudo</strong> ($12 **). Hamachi is farmed yellowtail, and the Japanese farmers who raise them overfeed them with rich food so they grow quickly to harvestable size. The fish eat a fatty diet and get little exercise, and so the flesh is oily and soft. The five tiles of fish used in this dish are fresh enough, but they have the drawbacks of farmed hamachi. Each tile is topped with avocado, a bit of ruby grapefruit, and a couple of thin rounds of peppery jalapeno. The acid grapefruit does help cut the fat, but the texture is still unappealing. It would be better with a wild-caught, sustainably managed fish.
<strong>Cauliflower Gratin</strong> ($8 **?) comes in an iron serving dish. Cauliflower florets in a sauce made with cheddar cheese and Bear Republic IPA beer smells dutifully of cheese and hot beer, and is lavished with crunchy bread crumbs.
<strong>Three Beef Sliders</strong> ($10 ***) are worth every penny as they explode with flavor. First, pickles go on the bottom buns, then juicy beef patties, a bit of blue cheese, meaty-sweet short-rib marmalade, and bacon aioli to top them off. They're little but they're lovely.
<strong>Strozzapreti</strong> ($13 **), which means "priest chokers," (the Italian sense of humor) were a tasty bowl of house-made, pencil-shaped pastas tossed with short-rib ragu, broccoli florets, cr?e fraiche, and horseradish gremolata.