after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

finishing in Napa and killing it in SF

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t says:  I have to say that up until this point, g and I were pretty successful in attaining wine in Napa (Quintessa, Sinskey, Massican, Larkmead) … BUT … we were a little disappointed that we hadn’t found something “new” or “exciting”.  For example, last time, we “found” Larkmead, we “found” Tor, we “found” Massican (i.e. they were around for a while and it was our first time tasting them, so I am saying that we “found” them), but this time, nothing really shocked us … (well, except for how mediocre Maisonry and Napa Vintner’s Collective were).  (g cuts in: hey – Newton’s Puzzle was delicious – I’m shocked that you didn’t buy any!).  Be that as it may – our last day in Napa started off with 750wines.  This “wine concierge” service is now our new favorite place in Napa.  It’s totally NOT for newbies, but basically you email them, you arrange an appointment, you fill out a questionnaire where they ask you about your price point and wine preferences, and they take it from there with a free tasting.  I’m not sure why it’s free – maybe they have that much faith that they’ll find something that you’ll buy?  No idea.  But It. Was. Awesome.  First off, the host, Monica, is fabulous.  She knows her wine, and she knows how to talk to people – very refreshing and surprisingly not commonplace in the Valley (for example, we went to one place shopping for “a crowd-pleasing, fruit-forward, super-smooth red” and all we got in response is, “we don’t stock those here” – are you for real?  Are we still in California?).  She also knows how to put together a tasting, and took it upon herself to “push us” a little, making 3 of 6 wines well outside our “comfort zone” in terms of what we typically drink (e.g. she included some chardonnay, some Italian stuff, some pseudo-Spanish stuff) – we would have never tasted these wines otherwise!  And you know what – they were more impressive than the ones that we would have predicted we would have liked (i.e. your standard cabs and sauv blancs).  Furthermore, she was willing to improvise some, pulling out a 7th wine because our conversations happen to meander some, inspiring her to show us yet another unique bottling that we would have never found.  Actually – if memory serves me correct, 6 of the 7 wines only had around 300 cases produced, so this was some low production stuff.  So yes, it was a great tasting, and although we only left with two bottles, if we had to join one wine club in Napa Valley, this would be it for sure!  We have that much faith in her ability to find wines that would appeal to us!  Oh, and she also gave us a tip about MacDonald Vineyards and their first ever release this year, which we hope will be the next big name in Napa.

We followed up 750wines with Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. One scrumptious duck burger and chicken-topped salad later, and we were on our way back to SF (with a Kara's cupcake interlude) ...

We followed up 750wines with a return to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. My duck burger was probably the best burger I’ve had in the past year (I only wish it tasted a little more ducky) and chicken-topped salad put a smile on g’s face.  This was our last meal in Napa … except for the Kara’s cupcakes we bought on the way back to SF …

Now, SF featured a lot of relaxing and catching up with k and kp, so we’ll be vague about the activities.  But the food … now that is some adsz-worth stuff, so we will try our best to shock and awe with picture upon picture … starting with our first dinner of SF … which was SPQR!  (PS – these are only SOME of the pictures we took)

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g had a weird dish called “sweet carrot and lentil salad, medjool date, and vadouvan curry crema”.  What actually came out was an assortment of like 37 different root vegetables and a few blobs of random textures … and g liked it!  i was also impressed – it was like something that we could have found at a casual version of Vedge.

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because we brought a red wine (i.e. because kp brought a red wine), i started off with a wagyu beef appetizer … which was interesting because the broth and greens were fabulous, and the dancing bonito was a sight to behold (i took a movie on my iPhone, but for some reason can’t post it to this blog – you’ll just have to trust us) … However, this was probably the weakest of the appetizers as the beef preparation was less-than-superbly executed (the three slabs weren’t super-tender, lacked seasoning, and was somewhere in the medium-medium-well range).  consequently, this dish was kind of a fail.

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buckwheat tagliatelle with bacon-braised suckling pig.  now this dish should be, in v’s terms, “all bait”.  But to be honest, it was a little underwhelming, as the pasta’s graininess was sadface-inducing – I would have taken a plain ‘ol barilla pasta because without the textural distraction of the buckwheat, I could have focused on the splendid oink-oinkiness of the rest of the dish … which was indeed everything that a pig-based pasta dish could be (i.e. heaven).

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now g’s pasta, on the other hand (mustard cappellini, guinea hen ragu, savoy cabbage, mimolette cheese), was so ridiculously addictive that i think i had more of it than she had!  and to further blow your mind – it was not even the “best” dish of the evening – that would be kp’s (not pictured).  He had this lasagnette (which, when served, looked like a boring folded over crepe) and meatballs that were in-sane.  It hit you in the face with memories of 5-year-old you, the first time you ever had your own meatball to yourself on a fork, with wide eyes and a cheesy grin with your tongue trying to reach the corners of your tomato-sauce-covered face.  in-sane.

kp brought out the big guns

for this dinner, kp reached deep into his cellar, past the santa margherita everyday “date wine”, and over to the “special wine” row to find this beauty.  This 2002 Revana was “tots cray”, with a nose of “man” (leather, tobacco, musk), but then palate of plush dark fruits that slid smoothly across the palate to make you pause and savor.  What’s the secret to this wine?  Is it the terroir?  The deep “family” wine-making heritage? …

kp brought out the big guns

… nope!  It was the ringer that the proprieter hired to make his wine: Heidi Peterson Barrett, the “first lady of wine” who gave us a 2002 that far outclassed the Dominus 2002 we had a few years ago.  How great!  In retrospect, while the food was delightful at SPQR, it was the wine (and company) that made it truly remarkable.

And so, the night ended and we went to bed with full stomaches and a smile … especially because I knew what was going down the next morning:

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Day 2 in SF started off with a trip to revisit Brenda’s French Soul Food Kitchen – we were back for the beignets!  And they were exactly like last time: one chocolate, one apple, one plain (that k demolished later with Blue Bottle coffee), and one crawfish.  And just like last time, it continues to completely ruin any other non-filled beignet ever, including those in NOLA.

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the shrimp-n-grits was similarly fabulous.  Now grit-for-cheesy-grit, kp’s are superior, however, that bacon-tomato jam is crazy-addictive and should be sold in jars so I could put it on anything and everything.

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After a day of shopping and parking (that’s a gerund for a new verb “to park”, which means “to relax in a park”), we went to a place called Ice Cream Bar – a cute little shop with frequent visits by cute little kids eating cute gigantic ice cream cones.  g and k got things like soup and sandwich or  something boring like that.  But not me – oh no – what you see above is a pb&j&b, where the second “b” is “bacon” (the waitress was totally unphased by my inquiry to add bacon to the sandwich).

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That night, we went to Tsunami Sushi, which had some of the best fish we’ve had in a while.  While chirashi typically includes boring cuts of fish, Tsunami did it right with quite a variety, as you can see above.  I think my only criticism was that the rice (actually, the sushi rice used in all the sushi there, not just the chirashi) was a little mushier than I come to expect from a Japanese eatery.  But that’s ok – becuase after sipping on the Taketsuru 12-year, I didn’t care anymore – it was just as fabulous as it was in NOLA at Cochon (which reminds me: I have got to get me some of that!  Either that or splurge on the 17-year).  What are the drawbacks of the place?  Maybe the music is too loud for this aged 31-year-old’s ears.

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Our last day in SF started at “The Mill”.  I have to confess that g and I are not cool enough to eat here (ok, g is, but I’m not).  Their main dish is “toast”.  No really – it’s “toast”.  And it’s toast that takes 10 minutes to prepare.  Like if you had someone brew a cup of coffee (like hipster-style, poor-through-a-chemex) versus someone making a slice of toast (e.g. above is “country” toast, with honey, salt, peanut butter, and apple butter), the toast would take longer to construct.  And yea – it’s some darned good toast – but come on people – it’s toast!

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After a day of some full-contact, no-holds-barred shopping (g and I tore it up in the Mission and on Hayes Street), we went for some lunch.  After failing to get Mission Chinese (closed on Wed) and Ken Ken Ramen (for some reason not offering lunch), we went for the safe lunch at Absinthe on Hayes Street.  Great “pasta of the day” and a refreshing salad.  And, even better was that wine shop next door … which was the only source of Massican Sauvignon Blanc in the entire US (seriously – why the hell is it so hard to find?).

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Now, I want to say that dinner at Bar Tartine, like the rest of our dinners, was also crazy-good.  But, I have no pictures!  We relied on kp for pictures and the flash makes them look a bit weird, so I’m not going to include them here.  Let’s just say that the menu looks boring-as-all-hell, with what seems to be an assortment of bread-related spreads, an assortment of pickles, and then a lot-lot-lot of vegetables.  Well let me tell you that despite the snooze-ville of a menu, these dishes were crazy.  Like the above was the “blue cheese and beet salad”: it was 95% blue cheese, 4% beet (two kinds!), and three leaves of lettuce – and it was off the hook.  Other highlights included a smoked salmon with cucumber and serrano chile jam that blew all of our minds, another dish that looked like ice cream in chocolate sauce but was actually smoked potatoes in barbecue sauce, and a green chile seafood stew that tugged at your heartstrings like an old-fashioned ciopino but had such a fresh zing to knock you on your ass.  Amaze-balls.

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yea, we had some chocolate “salami” (almonds and cherries were the specks) and a currant-apple gelee (best petite four ever!), but really, by then we were so impressed with the rest of the food that we tuned out the sweets.  There was, however, a more savory dessert course with carob (n.b. no matter what the server said, it does not taste anything like chocolate), goat cheese, walnuts, and 18 other components, that when put together, hit the sweet, salty and savory much like that gruyere “s’more” at DiBruno brothers.  Bravo.  Did not see that oen coming.

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this was our “find” of the trip – a bottle of 2012 Annia signed by the man Dan Petroski himself.  g did her “booyah” dance four times as we were exiting the store, as we were charged not a dime on top of the standard price (we have a crush on Dan Petroski … bigtime).

Napa/SF Recap: Day 2 (part 1)

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t says: We wanted to start off day 2 in Napa with a bang. Because we were lodging in Yountville, the only thing that made sense for us to do for breakfast was to go to Bouchon bakery. We passed by the cafe next to our railway car/hotel room, crossed the street, walked 50 yards and bam! there we were. I got just a few things: chocolate bouchon, chocolate croissant, and something else that likely had chocolate in it. The bouchon was tasty – it was more cakey than Garces Trading Company’s, which are more fudgy – I can’t really say which I prefer. The chocolate croissant made me cry a little on the inside, as it had the chocolate concentrated in a rod in the croissant. I hate it when they do that. But then g brought up a good point – when was the last time I had the mythical chocolate croissant that had chocolate throughout? The last time was over a decade ago. They were sold by this little coffee cart inside the Johns Hopkins undergrad library circa July 1998. At the time, I was still in high school staying at JHU for the summer, but when I matriculated at Hopkins in 2000, they no longer served those croissants anymore. I think Au Bon Pain used to do it the good way, too. But now that Keller doesn’t do it that way, I’m beginning to wonder if it ever could have been done, period! Did my mind make it up? After all, if anyone would go through the extra effort to evenly distribute chocolate, it’d be TK, right? After all, he is the guy that suggested that you sift your chocolate chips before using them in cookies to get ride of those tiny pieces that might make the cookie look less appealing (?dirty?).

We next visited Quintessa winery. This was going to be our token “real deal” winery for the trip; we were visiting other wineries more for the experience of going to beautiful vineyards with a variety of “shticks”. Artesa’s “shtick” was that they were the first bottle of wine we purchased (and we’ll never purchase again). Specializing in bordeaux blends bearing its namesake (although we have come to find that they are involved in the production of a very small run of white named Illumination), Quintessa’s “shtick” is that they make great wine (although the winery is indeed beautiful, too!). We’ll reveal future shticks as we go on. a hooked us up with one of his friends who hooked us up with a 10am visit at Quintessa. We owe them both, big time, because as far as wine goes, these were the best we tasted on the entire trip!

From the road, Quintessa doesn’t look like much. It looks like a giant stone wall set into a small mountain – it’s hard to imagine in the pic because you only see such a small part of it. It’s amazing how much of the facility is hiding behind this wall and/or underground! This is apparently a great architectural accomplishment; I believe it!

This is the view from on top of the wall looking out onto the “front yard” as I would call it. They probably have a better name for it.

This is the “back yard” (my term). It was amazing to see all of the different vineyard blocks situated on hills, valleys, and flat lands, with the rows oriented in different directions. I guess I had just assumed that the geography for any winery would be relatively constant (e.g. it’s all on one side of a mountain), but here you see that it’s quite varied – and this is for a winery as small as Quintessa. Interestingly (although not surprisingly), each patch (block) may be considered a distinct microclimate and have different soil conditions, thus may produce identical grapes (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon) of varying flavors. Therefore, the grapes from each is kept separate and blended together later to make one final wine.

Is there a better way to start off the morning than with a 10am glass of Illumination? I can’t think of many.

Some grapes up close.

We were also taken inside the winery and while we didn’t take any pictures of the vats or anything, we did take an obligatory picture of the barrels. Everytime I see views like this, I’m always overcome with peace. I think it’s because it’s dimly lit, quiet, and the barrels are all neatly arranged; it’s a sense of calm.

Of course, we also did a tasting. We tasted the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Quintessa wines, which were drastically different from one another. Between the different growing conditions for each year and the different final blends used in the wine, that was not surprising. g was partial to the ’05 which had a nice balance of fruit and not-fruit (highly technical terms here). The ’07 was tight still, with some bitter tannins up front, but I felt like there was a more powerful wine hiding underneath it than the ’05. The ’06 in our opinion had the lightest body of the 3, showing more fruit up front, but the flavors and mouthfeel dissipated very quickly. We bought a bottle or two of the wines we liked and are having them shipped to NJ in November. Because shipping to PA is either a no-no or extremely expensive (we did visit one winery that would do it, but it cost $100 for 3 bottles), I hope sr and ha don’t mind …

What next? Lunch. Angela, our guide at Quintessa (who was absolutely awesome) gave us a suggestion: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.

There’s a main street in St. Helena. Running parallel to that main street is a much smaller street. This eatery is off that much smaller street. (Do you like these directions? If you actually want to know where it is, google it like we did.) A little path led you to a small patio area with chairs, tables, a fig tree (with lights), and dogs. That’s right. Dogs. Apparently it is encouraged to bring your dog with you should you dine outdoors. Fortunately, they still took us even though we had no dogs. The food was fantastic. I had an arugula pesto gnocchi. The texture of the gnocchi was like a perfect potato gnocchi – a bit firmer than at Osteria. The arugula pesto had some of the peppery arugula taste to it, but I think I would have liked more! g had an “adult” grilled cheese with fig, tomato, and some kind of cheese we can’t pronounce. For dessert, we had the parfait which featured chocolate and coconut sorbets that were out of this world (for sorbets …).  The food was great, reasonably priced, and g spotted Cindy Pawlcyn. She didn’t stop and say hi to Cindy, as it seemed like Cindy was in a serious conversation with a chef about the menu, but at least g’s chef-dar is up-to-snuff.

We next visited Clos Pegase a Michael Graves-designed winery built as a “temple to wine and art”. We took no pictures. We took no pictures because the place sucked. Actually, our Quintessa guide informed us that Clos Pegase was a bit “dated”, and she hit the nail right on the head. On top of that, the people manning the visitor’s center did not even recognize our presence when we walked through the door … which is surprising because no one else was in there. They just held conversation with each other and pretended we weren’t there. I hope that someone buys the winery, fires those people, bulldozes the winery, and starts fresh …

We went to Sterling vineyards because we heard that you can take a lift up a mountain. But then we found that they charged you up front at the bottom of the mountain for their tour and tasting. I wasn’t interested in tasting their wine as I was DD. Sorry Sterling – I’m not paying $40 or $50 up front if all I really want to do is ride the lift …

So g and I set out on a spontaneous adventure. At our rehearsal dinner, we shared with our guests a magnum of ’99 Dominus … that was the year we met! It was a delicious wine – one that held significant sentimental value … We were determined to find the winery. We googled it, stuck the address into Mustang Sally’s GPS and off we went. It turned out that it was in Yountville – the town where our hotel was! This is what we saw:

We saw the front gate … and that’s it. You see, Dominus is not open to the public. I’m 100% positive that if we had an “in”, we could have visited. Later on, we found that you can indeed arrange a tour if you’re a smooth talker or have an industry connection – but that even still they’d be reluctant to give you a full-on tasting (I guess unless you’re a really smooth talker). On our next trip, for sure, g and I will pull every string we possibly can to breach this impenetrable fortress …

Well, I’ll finish off the day at my next sitting. Sorry to leave you hanging on Day 2 – but work needs to be done!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 October 2010 at 9:11am