By Stacey Bressler
Cindy Pawlcyn is a wonderful person. Not only is she an accomplished chef, but she is extremely generous with her time and talents; there is hardly a charity fund-raiser or community event where you won’t find Cindy listed as a donor or a patron. It’s really a pleasure to support someone who is such a vital part of the community – plus her Backstreet Kitchen is very good!
Welcome to A Diner’s Journal, my personal record of the places I eat and the food I enjoy. In this column I do my best to communicate what is good (and not-so-good) about the numerous dining establishments in Napa Valley.
It would be impossible to talk about Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen without starting with the Oysters Pablo ($2.75 each). I am a great fan of these incredible little mollusks and this is one of the signature dishes at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Oysters Pablo are similar to Oysters Rockafeller, baked to a bubbly golden brown with spinach, garlic and cheese. The “Pablo” refers to the talented Pablo Jacinto, executive chef and partner in Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Pablo, who has also worked with Philippe Jeanty and Michael Chiarello, shares Cindy’s philosophy of incorporating fresh local produce wherever possible.
The wonderfully varied menu is divided into Small Plates, Salads, Large Plates, Sandwiches and the “Big Beefy Cab Dish.” They cry out for creative mixing and matching. Among my personal favorites (in addition to the abovementioned Oysters Pablo) are the Stuffed Piquillo Peppers ($9), Rabbit Tostada ($9.95) and the Roasted Artichokes ($9). The Stuffed Piquillo Peppers are filled with aromatic cumin braised beef and covered with a piquant charred tomato sauce. The dish is hearty enough to have with a salad or soup as a light meal. This is also true of the Rabbit Tostada which contains perfectly seasoned black beans and feta cheese. The Rustic Roasted Artichokes are accompanied by a tangy lemon-caper aioli and are a good dish for sharing, though on occasion they have been overcooked and had to be sent back. My favorite dish to share is the Backstreet Fry ($9), a perfect combination of lightly battered calamari, sweet peppers, okra, jalapenos and onions with a cayenne aioli. It’s a great starter for the whole table.
Salads are also stand-outs. Cindy makes the best Classic Cobb in Napa Valley ($13.95). Filled with Hobbs smoked chicken, bacon and avocado it is a meal in itself. The Curried Chicken Salad ($12.50) is wonderful, too, and made hearty with the addition of bacon. The prettiest salad has to be the Avocado and Papaya ($9.95) with alternating green and orange slices, it tastes as good as it looks.
Among the large plates, the Slow Braised Short Ribs ($19.95) and Pablo’s Pollo Loco ($17.95) are my favorites. Both have the feel of comfort food and the most interesting of spices. Quail fans rave about Spice-Rubbed Quails with goat cheese polenta and caramelized onions ($21.95). But my husband says the Mighty Meatloaf served with garlic mashed potatoes ($14.95) is what keeps him coming back for more.
The Big Beefy Cab Dish changes daily. As a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, this is often my choice for dinner on cold wintry nights.
Though I stay away from desserts as a rule, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is one of the few places that can tempt me into transgression. The Warm Pineapple Upside Down Cake with housemade vanilla ice cream, rum-caramel and pecans ($7) is rich and decadent enough to make a grown-woman cry. And when the Coconut Sorbet is the special of the day, all thoughts of diet flee from my mind.
In closing, I must say a few words about the drinks at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. I usually stick to wine, but if I’m in the mood for a Mojito, Caipirinha or a classic Margarita, this is the place I head.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Avenue
St. Helena, CA 94574