Fancy Schmancy

Limbering up for Thanksgiving this year, I steeled my stomach for a day of gratuitous over-consumption with a terrific dinner at Cyrus. Even with occasional minor lapses in service, food and decor, something about the place makes me inclined towards generosity. Maybe it has something to do their own kindness. At one point, for instance, our waiter appeared with a large glass of 1981 Margaux poured from a bottle another table had inexplicably left half-full (at that price, it was definitely not half-empty). "Not quite as good as the 1982," he said. "It'll do," we said.

While Cyrus's two Michelin stars reflect the fact that it lacks the overwhelming extravagance of the Parisian three star experience, it's not too far off; and certainly compared with somewhere like l'Ambroisie [it's delicious to think about what a master of foie gras like Bernard Pacaud would make of Douglas Keane's salt-cured "torchon" with peanut butter and jelly] or even the nearby French Laundry, the $110 7-course tasting menu is something of a bargain.

Keane dictates that the entire table must partake of a tasting menu, and sadly my dear dining companions seemed to lack the gall (or cash) for a full seven courses, so I had to settle for six. Highlights included a pitch-perfect truffled red wine risotto, an amuse-bouche of scallop ceviche with an exhilarating explosion of flavors that one of my friends likened to an oyster, and an absolutely stunning cheese course (accompanied by a panforte which was simply one of tastiest things I've put in my mouth all year).

I won't spend too much time describing the food. I have a theory that at what Olga terms "fancy schmancy" restaurants, the hefty price of admission isn't so much for food as it is for the theater of the meal. As such, maybe the most entertaining part of the evening was seeing the waitstaff whirring around the dining room like they were extras in a silent movie. I particularly liked watching a troupe of them march from the kitchen to a large party, and the almost comic timing with which they simultaneously set down plates at the signal of a barely perceptible nod.

There is, I think, nothing wrong with going to a restaurant for reasons that aren't purely gastronomic. Or maybe part of gastronomy is precisely what some see as an accoutrement. Theater and performance are integral to our experience of eating - even at the most basic diner. Even our own acts of consumption are pretty much always performative.

As for enjoying the show, it's just a matter of choosing whether you want to watch an orchestra perform incredible feats of massed-rank precision, or a bunch of punk rockers hammering out sloppy two-minute hits...