Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Dinner at Cindy's Back Street Kitchen

Years ago I began following the cooking of Cindy Pawlcyn. She cropped up on the Napa Valley radar when she opened Mustards, in the early 1980's. She is an innovative chef, but rounds out her food with all the trappings of comfort food. As I believe I mentioned earlier, this was where I first tasted roasted garlic. Since it was very difficult, then, to even get into Mustards, one always had to wait for a table, even with a reservation. While waiting, what more obvious a thing to do than have a glass of the ubiquitous white wine of the decade (chardonnay, of course, because just about everybody was drinking the varietal at that time), and as you became more and more hungry watching and smelling the trays of food whisked from kitchen to tables, you might order a little something to slake your raging appetite. I remember asking the barman what we should have. He grinned and said, "the roasted garlic, of course." I'm sure I must have made a face: even though I love garlic, I knew nothing about roasting it and about how the flavor changes so dramatically. To utter smoothness, to cream.

So anyway, that began my enjoyment of Cindy Pawlcyn's food. And discovering how terrifically easy it is to make roasted garlic. Years have gone by, and I did enjoy many a dinner at Mustards, although now it's been some years. But when I began planning this trip, my friend Darlene raved about Pawlcyn's newer place, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. The name is thus because the restaurant sits in a cute and funky little house on the next street over from the main drag through St. Helena. The town itself is small. There's really just the one road that wends through the town, Highway 29. Tra Vigne is at the southern end of town, and Cindy's place is about in the middle of town. A month ahead it was difficult getting a reservation here, but I was successful only with an early hour. Our waitress was funny as a stitch. She told us about the specials of the day and went non-linear about the soup. She just insisted we
HAD to try it - a Tomatillo, Poblano and Asiago Soup. She said the wait staff was in love with it. So, what could we possibly do? We each ordered it. Oh - my - gosh! I cannot begin to tell you. I wanted another bowl. I did my best to get information about what was in it, other than the obvious. She didn't think there was cream, although she said it was thickened with masa. (To me, it looked like there was some cream.) So, today I did a search on the internet, and lo and behold I found a recipe from the chef at Stephan Pyle's restaurant in Dallas. I've never been there, but have certainly heard a lot about Stephan Pyles over the years. I haven't tried this yet, but I will. I can promise you I will because Cherrie and I went nuts over this soup. I'll let you know whether it compares with Cindy's. When I make it I'll try it without the flour, but with masa, and I'll taste it before adding any cream.

Cherrie ordered one solitary oyster with spinach, shallots and a melting cheese. I ordered the stuffed zucchini blossoms (with Jack, cheddar and Asiago, with a dollop of guacamole) lightly sauteéd. We also ordered a delicious grilled chicken dish, Chicken Pollo Loco (we shared one order) that was moist and tender.
It was stuffed with Jack cheese and California chiles and spinach, maybe flash fried with shallots and extra virgin olive oil.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is a winner. The food was outstanding. The wait staff was very fun. The atmosphere very enjoyable. Where I was sitting I looked out a window - isn't this cute?

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, 1327 Railroad Avenue, St. Helena, California

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