Friday, February 10, 2006

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen - St. Helena

Follow me on a tour of St. Helena's back streets through the eyes of Cindy Pawlcyn.

So, Cindy's Backstreet kitchen isn't quite a hole in the wall serving food out of said hole. It looks somewhere between a bistro and a tea house, with brilliant use of multi-colored water glasses (of all things) for splashes of color. It's also about as casual as you can get in St Helena, except for a burger stand (Taylor's Refresher) or KFC. We went there on a Sunday afternoon.

One picture can contain many treasures.
First off, you get warm, crusty bread, cut in slices and half, which is perfect for people like me who usually twist off half of slices anyway. It saved me a step.

Then there are the bowls of coarse salt to pinch onto your food and the personal pepper grinder.

Then that burger: the duck burger. It had a smokiness and juiciness, a little sweeter than a turkey burger with a silkier texture. It was topped with a hoisin mushroom kind of a sauce, and the fries (which were expertly spotted with coarse salt, like edamame) came with their shiitake mushroom ketchup, which I loved, but if left to my own imagination, would have thought was a honey mustard sauce with a touch of horseradish. The bun was also perfectly toasted, and it was a delightful Sunday afternoon meal.

Chad got the steak frites with ginger garlic marinade and rosso butter, which was tasted great.... but neither of us would have called it steak frites. The steak was a rather narrow and thick NY strip, and it was one of the juiciest I've ever encountered. Juices seemed to deluge every bite, but it was at the price of its firmness; some people's teeth would be sorely disappointed. And their frites were french fries, not the true matchstick frites.

And that aesthetically triumphant drink is a Dark & Stormy, made of dark rum and ginger beer. It was refreshing, and somehow complex.

I'd heard the legend of the Campfire Pie, so I knew that dessert would be coming my way. It seemed like half the room followed this plate to my table with admiring gazes.
It contained a kind of candied nuts (whose official name is almond ding) and chocolate chips, all mixed up into a meringue that pervades the whole slice, but is denser with nuts and chips on the bottom. It is supported by an oreo crust, and surrounded by a kind of caramel sauce. Not only was it toasted on top, but you'll notice toast marks on the side of the slice, too. THAT's brilliant. I like that every slice is given such individual attention.

Just as exciting was the Cara Cara Orange Vanilla Sorbet, served with an almond butter cookie. Cara cara oranges were described as a cross between a grapefruit and navel orange, and the simple syrup to make the sorbet is infused with a vanilla bean when it is made. It was incredibly refreshing and flavorful. I fully intend to try to replicate the recipe at home.
And a word about service -- our waitress was very friendly and happy to answer questions, and find out answers that she didn't know. It helped to round out a very pleasant Sunday lunch in St. Helena's gritty back streets.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Ave
St Helena, CA


Blogger Chick Pea said...

Wow...the dining room looks beautiful! And that burger doesn't look so bad either ;)

6:37 AM  
Blogger farmgirl said...

Gee, what a rough way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Wonderful write up. : )

Wow. I just linked here from the nice comment you left on my blog, Farmgirl Fare, and I am still reeling from all the amazing food businesses that have cropped up in my old stomping grounds since I moved away back in 1994. Yum, yum, yum!

Gorgeous photos of everything. Thanks for the mini eating vacation. Great blog. And best of luck at school. (In my opinion, food school was a much better choice than law school! ;)

P.S. Yes, you will definitely have to go back to Kozlowski Farms when the raspberries are in season. I created these little tarts as a simple but special way to showcase the red and golden raspberries I would buy each week at their stand at the Santa Rosa Thursday night market. At least now I have my own raspberries in my garden, so that's one place I don't have to miss like crazy! : )

9:16 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you! I can't wait to get some good raspberries for the RaspberryTartlets.
We went to the SF Ferry Building yesterday morning, which had a huge farmer's market made up of so many of Sonoma/Marin all-star farms... and it was great, but made me so eager for the summer farmers markets!

11:26 AM  

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