| | | |

Top Chef Treat in Napa – Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

Cindy's Backstreet KitchenLeaving Round Pond Estate where the #Trafalgar2012 group had the pleasure of olive and wine tasting in the most beautiful facility that I have seen in wine country, we headed into St. Helena for lunch and to what would be the biggest thrill for me during the entire weekend. Despite being a Top Chef geek I have never been to any Top Chef alumni restaurant so when I learned we were going to Top Chef Master Cindy Pawlyn's place, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, I was super excited!

Cindy was on season one of the Top Chef Masters show and has three Napa Valley restaurants, her most famous being Mustards Grill. Naturally, never in a million years did I think Chef would be at the restaurant so no one was more shocked when she walked out to greet us and pose for photos!

Cindy PawlynOf course, she had me at her glasses! As someone with a slight glasses fetish, I was completely enamored by hers! Chef Pawlyn pardoned herself away to get to the kitchen to prepare our lunch.

I was still pinching myself when I selected my menu items and when I settled down a bit I took some time to explore the upstairs of her restaurant where we were sitting. The decor is so whimsical, and, either by design or because the space is, in reality, a re-purposed house, you feel like you are in someone's home. I love all the signs and touches throughout the entire place. I want this 50-cent fried chicken and waffles sign (not sure where I would put it, but as I have a thing for fried chicken, I'd figure it out!).

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

Before I knew it our selections began arriving and I was so excited to try the food, I forgot to take a photo with my “real camera” yet somehow remembered to capture the first course of duck and sausage gumbo with my phone for Foodspotting! Sorry for the quality!


The gumbo was tasty but not very hot (temperature-wise), something that is probably hard to do when serving for a group. There are wonderful duck farms in Sonoma that service the entire San Francisco Bay Area, it is such a treat to be able to get such a high-quality ingredient all the time.

For my main course, I selected the mushroom tamale with creamy grits and Yucatan salsa. I would have to say that this is an interpretation of what the standard tamale is. Since it was made with grits it has a looser texture and the salsa was a lot sweeter than I expected, actually reminded me of a marinara sauce. It all tasted good, but you know when you have the idea of what something should be in your head and then you get something else, it is hard to reconcile between your brain and your mouth.

Family Travel Packing Tips

CIndy's Backstreet Kitchen Mushroom Tamale

Not Chef Pawlyn's fault, a mental thing for me! The dish was delicious! Dessert was a warm pineapple upside-down cake with house-made ice cream. Not only did it do a good job of sopping up the wine I had tasted, but it kept hunger at bay for hours!

CIndy's Backstreet Kitchen Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Completely satiated I rolled out of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen with a huge smile on my face!

How about you? Have you ever been to a celebrity chef's restaurant when they were there? Have you gotten to meet them?

Disclosure: I was a guest of Trafalgar for a tour in San Francisco and Napa. I was not required to write this post, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions are 100% my own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Bobbi Lee Hitchon says:

    What a cute place? I’m heading to California very soon. Road tripping all around, including Napa. I only have a couple days there and I know there are a few town centers-which one would you recommend staying in? I’d like to visit this place for sure!

    1. @Bobbi, what kind of budget are you looking at? What are your favorite activities – wine-tasting, food, outdoors? I would be happy to provide some recommendations!

    1. @Katie, thanks! It was thrilling!

  2. Bobbi Lee says:

    Thanks Andi. I’ll be on a lower-end budget. Tops $50 per day. I have an idea of some vineyards to visit. Really just looking for the best of the towns to stay in. I’ll be camping-so I’m hoping to find a nice campsite, close to town and a good town to stay in. Any recommendations?

    1. @Bobbi, the most laid back (and therefore) easy going of all the towns in the region, in my opinion, is Sonoma. The town is very walkable, there are parks and bike paths around it and it is not as pricey as some of the other towns. Let me reach out to friends in the area to see if they have recos on camp grounds. You can eat plenty of breakfast and lunches at the price, more difficult for dinner. If you are a burger fan (and they have great chicken and salmon too) you should not miss Taylor’s Refresher in Napa.

  3. What an awesome pic you got of her! Believe it or not, I had ZERO idea that she was somewhat of a celebrity!!! I had a delicious meal there, but decided to not photography it, as my hand was exhausted and needed a break.

    1. @AndiP, isn’t she cute? I didn’t take any photos at Nicholson Ranch because of the same exact reason! Why I am so happy to have yours to refer to!

  4. Susan @ Cruise Vacation says:

    I don’t know what to say after saw all your delicious foods pictures. Thanks for sharing and honestly I’d love to make one of the dish for my entire family.

  5. I want to go here right now. OMG. A mushroom tamale with grits. And the pineapple upside down cake. All of – fabulous. Is her coat pink?

    On another note, people with interesting glass immediately put me at ease. It’s such a great calling card and these light blue ones deserve their own post. Thanks for sharing your awesome tour.

    1. @Jen, remind me to wear my red glasses when we meet!

  6. I loved how you had told me about her the day before she showed up at breakfast. I’m like you — I know every single chef in my town, Vegas, and I get quite starstruck when they appear. So fun to see a chef from your part of the world. Plus, it made me want to watch Top Chef!

    1. @Abby, they are total celebrities to me!

  7. That is so cool – I too am a huge Top Chef fan! & really awesome that she was the one who actually prepared the food too – double bonus!