Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

Located in downtown St. Helena, just off the main street, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is run by Cindy Pawlcyn, who also owns and runs a number of other well respected restaurants in the Valley and Bay area. Casual, cozy, and yet with an upscale feel, this is a brilliant restaurant that dishes up impeccably made food that makes ample use of their wood burning oven. In addition, the wine list is solid and reasonably priced, and the service was spot on.

Looking first at the food, the starter of baked Oysters was superb. Perfectly cooked, with a bubbling parmesan crust and a still cool Oyster, it was a great kick off to the meal. This was followed by a Roasted Beet Salad (again, perfectly done) and a knockout, wood oven Roasted Duck. Crispy, crunchy and yet still moist and perfectly cooked, with rock star flavor, it was perfect faire for the Châteauneuf du Papes. The accompanying Cassoulet was cooked well, yet lacked a real crust and was slightly boring.

I was having a Cabernet Sauvignon overload this evening, and had decided to drink some knockout efforts from the south of France. Starting out, upfront and ready to go, the 2009 Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is probably the best wine of the vintage. About as sexy (if not a little slutty) and seamless as this cuvee gets, there was not a hard edge to be found in its sweet blackberry, kirsch, licorice and roasted herb-driven profile. Full-bodied, with sweet tannin and a gorgeous texture, it will evolve gracefully given its overall balance and depth, yet can be drunk anytime over the coming decade or more. I poured a glass for the server and she commented that it was the best wine she'd ever tasted... I couldn't argue too much with her. The polar opposite, the 2005 Domaine du Clos du Caillou Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve (60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah) started out backwards and reserved, at it wasn't until the end of the evening that it started to open up. Black cherry and assorted dark fruits, graphite, licorice and ample minerality all flowed to a full-bodied, seriously concentrated red that had substantial, yet sweet tannin, superb mid-palate concentration and a blockbuster finish. It needs another 2-4 years of cellaring and will see it 25th birthday in fine form.

I wrapped up the evening with a slightly disappointing dessert, yet loved the overall meal and will certainly be back.

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