Nestled behind the main street in downtown St. Helena is a Napa Valley jewel called Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The outside of the restaurant is understated yet it is adorned with vibrant foliage and colorful flowers in the window boxes. Once you enter, you feel as though you are entering someone’s home and my assumption would be that is the purpose behind the décor, ambiance and restaurant name.
Cindy Pawlcyn the owner has planted many restaurant roots in Napa Valley along with the legendary Mustards Grill that flanks highway 29 along the entrance to the world famous wineries. Many well-know Bay Area dining establishments have been touched by Cindy’s magic including Fog City Diner, Bix, Roti, Betelnut and Tra Vinge. Her culinary chops began at the early age of thirteen by working at a local cooking school and assisting her mother in the kitchen. With an entrepreneurial spirit, she ran a catering business during her high school years.
She cooked in several states prior to landing in Napa Valley and earned the prestigious honor of being named as the opening chef at Meadowood. This eventually led her to launch in 1983, Mustards Grill which today still boasts crowds and waiting lists to eat the divine cuisine. She maintains a commitment to seasonal inspirations through the bounty of the garden along with the variety of ingredients provided in the area. She has been recognized on numerous occasions and has been highly decorated with the culinary best awards such as: “Who’s Who of Cooking in America" nominated twice for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in California and is the recipient of the Robert Mondavi Award for Culinary Excellence.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen has been on my restaurant bucket list for sometime. With it being my turn to choose the restaurant for our “Restaurant Club” excursion, it was an easy decision. Now I was able to place a check mark next to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. We typically set our reservations for 11:30am to get ahead of the crowds and allow a leisurely dining experience. The day we went was fairly warm outside, so we elected to dine inside.
We had a fantastic waiter and please forgive me for not remembering his name. He was full of personality, knowledgeable and gave impeccable service. At one point, he noticed I was taking photos of each dish, so he brought over a copy of the lunch and dessert menu for me to take home. (Now that is service in my book.) We enjoy ordering a variety of items so we can taste numerous dishes and enhance the full menu experience.
We started with the Polenta Fries. Let me just say that we died and went to heaven with these deep fried nuggets of polenta joy. They were perfectly creamy with a crispy outside and a touch of salt – pure decadence. I enjoyed a glass of Ehlers 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon which was full bodied with ripe fruit, a hint of spice, toffee undertones and a smooth finish that was delightful.
For our first course, we enjoyed Cindy’s Curried Chicken Salad with mixed greens, Arugula, radishes, almonds and crispy bacon. This is a signature salad and after tasting it, the creamy curry dressing along with all of the ingredients, it was a perfect pairing of flavors. The Butter Lettuce salad with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, celery leaves and buttermilk-dill dressing was well chilled and left me wanting to eat this every night. It was perfectly chilled, crisp and embodied a delicate balance of flavors.
I enjoyed the Pasta Del Giorno which was handmade pasta with Arugula pesto, Chinese broccoli and bright cherry tomatoes. Brenley opted for the Mighty meatloaf with horseradish barbeque sauce and garlic mashed potatoes. Lynette selected the fresh fish of the day which was sturgeon and adorned with a Charmoula sauce, beans and potatoes. I had never actually tasted Sturgeon and/or Charmoula sauce, but both were simply outstanding and the dish hit a homerun. Note to self – make charmoula sauce soon.
A restaurant club lunch would not be complete without tasting a few desserts. Despite having relatively full bellies, we ordered dessert. Can you tell our arms were being twisted? Smile. We selected the CP Railroad Avenue Parfait with house made ice cream, sorbet, sauces and a cookie. Our second selection was the Warm Plum & Blueberry Brown Butter Cake with house made vanilla ice cream and warm berry sauce. Both desserts were amazing.
Overall, we collectively ranked our dining experience high on our list. The food was brilliant. The setting was relaxing, inviting and comfortable. The service was perfect. Last but not least the company was sublime. I would highly recommend adding Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen to your restaurant bucket list and making a reservation. You will not be disappointed.