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Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena


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Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena

Melanie Wong | Sep 27, 2003 04:22 PM

Cindy Pawlcyn’s return to comfort food was my dinner stop last night as I headed up-valley. I called about 30 minutes ahead of time to make a reservation for a single at 8:30pm. This was my first visit.

Things started off a little rocky as only a patio table was available when I arrived on schedule. But I was happy to take one of nine seats at the bar instead of waiting. The barkeep set a place for me with a heavy leather place mat and I ordered a Monte Mojito while I studied the menu. The Kitchen is talked about as a return to familiar comfort food retrofitting the atmosphere and the Latin specialties of the former Miramonte, yet it still offers some dishes with Latin spicing. The entrees are all less than $20. I almost ordered the wild mushroom tamale, but decided to mix it up with two appetizers instead. I went with a couple oysters to start and the stuffed red peppers.

The bar soon filled up with local regulars. When these later arrivals were served their drinks and bread ahead of me, I called the bartender over and said, “I’d like to cancel the cocktail and see your wine list please.” He apologized profusely for missing my order; warm and attentive service and the charm were turned on for the rest of the evening and we were fine from there on.

Pablo’s oysters, named for Chef Pablo Jacinto, are offered at $2.25 each. These medium-size oysters were broiled in the half shell with fresh spinach and topped with a chili-spiked creamy cheese sauce. The oysters were just cooked through, juicy, sweet, and tender. They’re over-sauced with a couple spoonfuls spilling over the edges, but these tasty dribbles were quickly mopped up with some crusty bread. A very rich beginning, I almost ordered a couple more.

Stuffed red peppers, $8, were three piquillo-type sweet peppers filled with beef braised in a smoky chili sauce and topped with slivered toasted almonds and a swirl of crema. Cut in a small dice, the meat was intensely beefy, yet also very chewy and overly hard in texture. The taste was fantastic though with a kick of more than moderate heat from the pool of velvety, almost molé-like roasted chili sauce.

Warm pineapple upside down cake, $6, was topped with housemade vanilla ice cream and chopped toasted almonds. Baked in an individual round the circumference of the slice of glazed pineapple, the cake was tender and crumbly. The rum caramel sauce was exquisite and the ice cream was just right hitting the comforting American flavor chord and not going too rich. But a little more of each was needed in proportion to the cake serving. I left about a quarter of my cake behind because it was too parched when the accompaniments ran out.

Portion size is big and American here. My bar mates were tucking into their huge plates of wood oven-roasted duck with croquettes, glazed pork chop with mashed potatoes, and the tamale wrapped in chard and served with roasted corn on the cob with gusto. All the food looked and smelled good.

Wine-wise, I was delighted to see 11 bottles of Pinot Noir from various producers in Carneros, Russian River Valley, Central Coast, and Oregon open on the tasting bar for the “Pinot Envy” promotion. A rare sight in the heart of Cabernet country. If I’d been less tired, I would have run the gauntlet and tried them all.

But this time I was looking for something cold and refreshing that would be able to handle the spiciness in my food. I considered a beer - Fat Tire Ale and Anchor Steam are on tap – but went back to the wine list. Some nice rosés were available, including Lang & Reed. Still, I was craving an Iberian crackling green wine like Txakoli or Albariño, and the California Chenin Blancs or Sauvignon Blancs listed couldn’t meet that mark. “J” Russian River Valley Pinot Gris was offered by the glass, but I opted for even more aromatics with the 2002 Miner California (Madera) Viognier, $8/glass. The bold and fruity Viognier wrapped around the oysters’ creamy spicy notes beautifully. With the peppers though, the wine turned bitter and hotly alcoholic, clashing in contact with the spicier sauce. If the list’s focus in on local wines or those of the Americas, then Ceja Carneros Vino de Casa white (Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier blend) would be a worthy addition to fill a badly needed slot for a crisp, aromatic, moderate alcohol, and value-priced white wine.

The place has a more upscale vibe and feels less down-home than I was expecting. I didn’t see more of the restaurant beyond the front room with the bar that has a few small tables too. There were some tables crowded into the outdoor patio at the entrance. Filled to the rafters on a busy Friday night, it was noisy with laughter and both locals and visitors having a good time. I was a satisfied customer, as well, for my $30 tab.

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
(a block off Main St., across the street and the parking lot from Safeway
)1327 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena
(707) 963-1200
Open every day, serving continuously between 11:30am and 9pm, ‘til 10pm on Friday and Saturday



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