Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

The San Francisco Bay Area is no doubt a culinary destination, where foodies from all over the world flock to try renowned restaurants such as The French Laundry, Gary Denko’s, and Chez Panisse. Having grown up in the Bay Area, however, what I appreciate most about the cuisine is not the incredible Fine-Dining options—which yes, are amazing—but rather the countless number of wonderful restaurants found in a variety of unique “gourmet ghettos”—a term which has come to define the many enclaves full of top rated restaurants. Napa County, which is most known for wine, cheese, and spa treatments, is actually one of the most established of these gourmet ghettos. Some of the best bakeries, markets, and restaurants, using the finest and freshest ingredients, are conveniently located along the picturesque countryside. So when I am back in the Bay Area, I like to take a relaxing drive up to Napa County and spend the day eating, rather than drinking, my way through wine country.

My parents had recently been up to Napa to eat dinner at a restaurant called Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. My mom called me (mid-meal might I add) to tell me that when I am home, we must all go back. While I am usually excited to hear about a restaurant discovery, at the time of the call I was eating yet another flavorless bagel from Mark’s Café in VP. As you can imagine, I was not particularly thrilled to be listening about great meals found 3000 miles away, and so I didn’t pay much attention to both her mid-and-post dining review. After my last of 3 midterms in 2 days, I came home exhausted and turned on the TV. I found myself watching Giada’s Getaway Weekends on the FoodNetwork where what do you know, she was spending the weekend in Napa. I love shows that highlight restaurants in different cities, especially when they are cities I am familiar with or know that I will be in or near in the future. So Giada was eating dinner at this restaurant and ordered a delicious looking meal: fig and caramelized onion flatbread, an oven-roasted duck, and the most ridiculously incredible looking “s'mores pie” dessert. Knowing that my mom would want to go up to Napa when I came home for spring break (and I definitely wanted to check this place out), I re-winded to find out the name of the restaurant and funny enough, it was Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.

My parents and I decided to drive up one Sunday and spend the afternoon sampling cheeses and baked goods at the many bakeries and markets, and then wrap up the day by eating dinner at Cindy’s. The restaurant itself is very open and inviting, and the wait staff was very friendly. The meal started out on a high note: the specialty “classic and hip house cocktails” and wines were extensive and top-quality. Even the “bread course” so to speak was incredible: Cindy’s served delicious, freshly baked bread that not only had the perfect crust, but also a perfectly balanced chewy-soft center. The bread was served with locally produced unsalted butter and artisan salts. With some restaurants, the bread is forgettable, but this bread is seriously worth noting. And such restaurants that take pride in all aspects of a meal really stand out in my mind.

The appetizers were just as phenomenal. I ordered the oven-roasted wild mushrooms with fromage-blanc and griddled polenta. I almost ordered another one it was so good, and the sauce was perfect to dip the leftover bread in! The next appetizer was my parents’ choice: Oysters Pablo. I despise oysters, mussels, and clams because I am just not a fan of the texture, or the taste for that matter. My parents, however, are huge oyster fans—especially the Oysters Pablo here, which are served on the half-shell on a bed of spinach and garlic—and forced me to try one. I had three out of the six. Alright, maybe I like Oysters done right…

Despite the cute names like the “Hail Caesar” and “Brutus Caesar,” the three of us decided to skip salads and just go straight to the main course. My mom ordered the house-special Wood Oven Duck which is slowly cooked (I think for 6-8 hours) and served with cranberry-apple wild rice and fried risotto cheese balls—need I say more. My dad ordered the Sunday Prime Rib which is marinated for 24-hours and served with some sort of baked, potato-cheese puff (his meal was my least favorite, but I happen to think prime rib is only best at Prime Rib Only restaurants or Steak Houses). I ordered the popular Pablo Pollo Loco: a perfectly seasoned—with a Mexican flair—half chicken with avocado and toasted pumpkin seed salsa, accompanied with a cheese stuffed green chile. While the duck was delicious, consensus at the table was that my dish was overall the best.

Okay so yes, yes the dinner was wonderful, but the entire time I could not get my mind off of the “s'mores pie” that Giada had ordered. But when it came time to choosing the dessert, I realized that I wanted to try them all! We decided to get two: the Pineapple Upside Down Cake and the Campfire Pie. The pineapple cake was decadent and delicious, with rum-caramel, pecans and homemade vanilla ice cream. I was still however, focused on my pie. The Campfire pie has an Oreo cookie crust that is almost brownie-like, a layer of thick fine-quality chocolate sauce, some homemade almond toffee, and a 5-inch top layer of marshmallow fluff that has been slightly roasted in the oven to create a topping reminiscent of campfire-marshmallows. The presentation definitely gives the dessert an immediate “WOW” factor, and it was hands down one of the best desserts I have ever had. Even my mom who is not really a chocolate or s’mores fan was loving it. I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the pie since it was devoured within 5 minutes of being set on the table!

Overall Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen offered the best kind of meal—one that is fantastic from start to finish. The chef and owner, Cindy Pawlcyn, also has two other restaurants: the beloved Mustards Grill and new GoFish that I hear are equally wonderful. To be honest, it is hard to find a bad restaurant in the gourmet ghettos of Napa County—home to some of the best chefs in the United States with the freshest ingredients at their disposal. But after having eaten at Cindy’s, I would recommend it to any visitor and hey, if Giada loved it you know it has to be worth trying!

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