Cindy's Backtsreet Kitchen in St Helena (Napa) - a Wine Country Gem
Cindy's was the best meal I had during my weekend in Napa. Thanks to Maria Lorraine for sending me there. The food was delicious from start to finish, our server was super friendly and the prices were very reasonable. The kitchen did a nice job playing with the east meets west meets south of the border theme, and this sort of fusion is hard to pull off. My only regret was the I relegated it to lunch and thus was unable to order as much as I would have liked.
Started with a fine corn chowder. The chunks of corn offered a nice contrast to the silky texture of the broth. It had a nice, light flavor of summer. I just wished it had a little bacon in it to pick things up, it needed that umami zing. I guess I should know better than to order vegetarian soup, but this was still good. In contrast to my dinner at Bistro Jeanty, the food at Cindy's improved with each course.
Papaya and avocado salad was good. These salads can be killed by inferior ingredients, many restaurants skimp on avocado quality in particular, but Cindy's delivered. The bitter greens, sweet hazelnut and tangy, slightly spicy dressing brought it all together. I would definitely order this dish again.
Rabbit Tostada was very good. I really liked the texture contrast of tender rabbit, crunchy tortilla, smooth beans and crisp greens. The flavors also united well and the rabbit was particularly delicious. My only quibble was the excessive use of feta. Feta, like vinegar, is often overused by kitchens. The flavor is so strong that is can really overwhelm a dish when not used sparingly. I would have preferred a mild cojito, which I think would also keep with the theme. That said, I would definitely order it again, but with the feta on the side.
Wood oven duck was excellent. Crispy skin, melt in your mouth meat and a tangy sauce that put Jeanty's sauces to shame. I loved the crispy fried potatoes croquettes it was served with (a bit reminiscent of Gregoire's puffs). It was also a very nice portion -with two leg/thighs. Highly recommended.
I wished I had room for dessert. The vanilla panna cotta sounded dreamy and I'm still kicking myself for not ordering a milkshake. Ah well, I will just have to return another day.
Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is the sort of neighborhood place that you are always surprised to find in such a touristy town. Given the dominance of high end, super expensive restaurants as well as really heavy French restaurants, Cindy's is a real standout. If I lived in the area, I would be a regular. As it is, it will be a must stop for all of my future trips to Napa.
FWIW - I didn't make it to Ad Hoc. They had Fra'Mani sausages on the menu. Don't get me wrong, they're good sausages, but I can get them at half the restaurants in town or cook them at home. Instead, I had a perfectly fine meal at Bistro Don Giovanni. I'm thankful for the wonderful Italian food I have in the East Bay (which BDG cannot approach) but BDG delivered a much needed light dinner, and they took a last minute res after I vetoed Ad Hoc. The tiramisu is to die for.