Monday, November 09, 2015

Cyril's Puts Meat on the Side

I was intrigued from the very first line of the e-mail. "We’re updating our menu and literally putting meat where we think it belongs: On the Side."

No wonder the subject of the message was "Courage!"

Which is why I took a few minutes on a recent morning to talk with owner Sasha Davies about her vision for her three-year-old bistro, Cyril's. The first thing she said was that this shift away from featuring meat at the center of every plate was no radical epiphany that descended on her from on high.

"This is the menu I always wanted to have," she said, which is more than evident in the "vision board" (left) that she created with her husband Michael Claypool before they'd even signed a lease on the Cyril's space.

"Meat is really easy," she said. It's got fat, that unctuous, umami-laden essence that oozes from it and makes it the star of every well-composed plate it appears on. And because meat has always had that diva's role on most restaurant plates, she believes it's difficult to convince people that a meal composed of mostly vegetables has the same value, never mind the flavor, of one that's focused on protein.

"One day it dawned on me that meat-oriented meals were about a thousand times easier to make delicious and satisfying than vegetarian ones," she wrote, "and that to be a terrific vegetarian cook actually required more skill and experience than it did to nail any braised pork shoulder recipe.

"Putting meat on the side is us being courageous enough to do what we’ve always wanted to do, which is commit to what we’ve secretly dreamed about becoming: a vegetable-oriented bistro. Call us ‘vegetarian-ish.'"

Deciding to take this leap coincided with a presentation she heard from Mark Canlis, owner with his brother Brian of Canlis restaurant in Seattle. At that talk Davies heard him speak about the broken nature of the industry he is part of, about "essentially [how] the hospitality business was severely limited in their capacity to serve others by their colossal failure to take care of their own," i.e. their workers, their families and their communities.

It struck Davies that "this other-centered (the opposite of self-centered) strategy that Canlis was talking about created a practical space for this deeply held belief I have that when people feel seen and heard they do better, in fact they thrive."

Will this shift in the direction of her restaurant gain acceptance? Or, on the contrary, will it be a tragic mistake, a fear that Canlis also admitted to in his presentation?

"I'm pumped, afraid, excited and uncomfortable," she said. "But if we don't do this, we'll always wonder."

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