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Review of Go Fish--Cindy Pawlcyn's new restaurant in St. Helena

Non Cognomina Sep 30, 2006 05:31 AM

I went to Go Fish in St. Helena last night. We arrived a few minutes early for our 7:30pm reservation and were told almost immediately that they were running about 15 minutes late with their second turn . There was very little room to wait inside the door unless you stepped up to the bar, so we just stood and watched the show. About 20 minutes passed and we were offered drinks, but still no table. I took the opportunity to chat with the hostess about the construction on the patio, which will include some raised beds and an outdoor bar area.

The interior was warm and sophistocated without being stuffy. The the building was gutted and redone so it looks very different from its previous incarnation--Pinot Blanc. I'm tempted to write a lot about the decor and ambiance, but this chowhound needs to skip ahead to the food!

When we were seated we had a chance to survey the surrounding tables and were delighted to see such generous portions and mostly beautiful food. The sushi was rolling, but I saw no asian faces at the sushi bar--which leads to an interesting sidebar regarding the evolution of ethnic cuisine, probably for another board. We decided against sushi.

The menu was cleverly divided into categories such as "Fish Your Way," "Fish Our Way," "Raw Fish," "Shell Fish," "No Fish," etc. The "Fish Your Way" listed about five types of fish (i.e. wild King salmon, sole, swordfish) with your choice of method of cooking (saute, wood grilled, steamed) and choice of five sauces (i.e. seseme ginger vinegrette, lemon caper butter parsley). These were served a la carte with the option of adding sides like the cilantro basmati rice, and vegetable of the day (succotash with cranberry beans and corn). The "No Fish" section had one vegetarian pasta dish, one beef and one chicken dish. There was a section of steamers (mussels or clams) in a lemon herb wine broth or curry coconut broth with or without linguini. There was a San Francisco Cioppino with half a crab that you had to "get involved" with. There were about 8 small plates/starters that sounded good, too, including lobster wontons which I'm still curious about.

After much discussion about what we could eat without hurting ourselves (and deciding we had to come back based on the variety of the menu) we ordered.

We started with the "Hot and Bubbly Crab Dip." This was further described to us by our server as a 1950's style crab dip in a beschemel sauce with parmesan crouton crust and served with toasted bread crackers. Sounded delish, but it was rather disappointing. The sauce was runny, which made it difficult to eat on the cracker--it dripped all over the table, my hand, my shirt. The first bite I got into my mouth had a big piece of hot pepper (canned jalepeno?) which I was not expecting. I was suddenly reminded that Cindy Pawlcyn always seems to have peppers (hot and/or sweet) in all of her food. [This made me laugh when remembering her comment about one of the contestants of "Top Chef" using way too much pepper and being a "pepper monkey."] It wasn't bad, but it didn't quite hit the spot. I can't recommend that dish.

For our entrees I had the King Salmon, wood grilled with sesame soy ginger vinegrette, with the cilantro basmati rice on the side. My date had the sole with lemon butter caper parsley sauce and asked for a side of the sour cream mashed potatoes and the basmati rice. Our server said the "sides" were large portions and that the rice I ordered would be enough for us both, so he got just the potatoes.

It seemed to be a long time for our food to come out of the kitchen. Also, our empty appetizer plate sat on our table for about 20 minutes and was still there when our entrees were dropped at our table. Okay, so they need some work on timing, but they just opened, so we were prepared for some bumps in the service.

My salmon was very good--the marinade was "umami" and paired perfectly with the wood grilling and the salmon. The rice should not have been described as cilantro basmati. I couldn't taste any cilantro and there were frenched green beans and yet more peppers in the rice, and toasted sliced almonds. Not bad, but not what I expected. The sole was a surprisingly small portion, and the white fish with the white sauce on the large white plate looked sad and limp. It wasn't particularly flavorful--surprising as Pawlcyn's food is usually very flavorful (probably because of all the peppers). His potatoes were chunky mashed red potatoes, but sort of thoughtlessly plopped onto the plate--smooshed to one side and not a very big portion. The potatoes also were not hot--more like slightly warm. That was disappointing. If anything get's me down it's poorly planned/executed potatoes. Alas.

We opted to skip dessert as nothing jumped out from the menu. Our wine had been comped so with tip our bill came to about $65. We will go back again, maybe in about a month when they get some of the kinks worked out.

If anyone wants more details on the ambiance, physical description of the dining room or bar I'd be happy to post it.

Ciao, hounds....

  1. s
    santoku45 Sep 30, 2006 05:54 AM

    Thanks for the informative review. Would appreciate your take on ambiance, decor, etc. Will be in Napa in a few weeks and was considering Go Fish for lunch.

    3 Replies
    1. re: santoku45
      Non Cognomina Sep 30, 2006 09:39 PM

      santuku45, first I highly recommend that you make a reservation. We are in crush up here and it's pretty busy, even for lunch. You can do it online at OpenTable:

      http://www.opentable.com/rest_profile...

      or call the restaurant directly at (707) 963-0700

      I don't know if you had been to Pinot Blanc, the restaurant in the same space before Go Fish was there. The building had many rooms in it--sort of separate spaces. I don't remember it very well, except that I didn't like it. The building was pretty much gutted when they were working on Go Fish. A few months ago you'd drive by and it was just a shell of a building.

      Now it has huge windows facing Highway 29 that I'm sure let in lots of light during the lunch service. We were there at night so we didn't see that, but the windows reflected the light and movement in the dining room, which also looks inviting from the street.

      The physical space is much airier than Pinot Blanc. They removed some of the interior walls, but had some room separaters created by panels coming down from the ceiling and meeting up with the back of the banquette. Pendant lights dropped from the ceiling with rounded cone shaped translucent light cocoa colored shades that cast a warm light and created a more intimate atmosphere. The banquettes were lined with oversided pillows--firm enough to support you but with enough give to feel cozy. The pillows had three different coordinating fabrics, each with rich textures. It lent to the atmosphere of casual, comfortable sophistication.

      The bar area looks more suited to walk-ins who want to eat rather than just getting a drink. The dining counter by the sushi bar is up higher, and there are three guys rolling sushi who seemed interactive with the people sitting at that part of the bar. The dining counter by the actual bar was lower, so it didn't seem you would interact very much with the bartender. I liked the fabric on the back of the bar chairs, which looked like a mottled blue and white pattern. The further away you stood the more you could see that it was a fish pattern, and from where I was sitting for dinner, the back of the bar chairs put together looked like a swimming school of fish.

      We didn't get fancied up to dine there, as it wasn't any special occasion for us. I was delighted to see that most people had done the same. Perhaps that lent to the comfortable atmosphere, too.

      The table service left a lot to be desired. Our server had about 10 tables, including one with 8. She was also training a younger, greener server (who seemed to keep checking herself in the reflection of the window). Between the two of them there was still a long wait to get our order in, to get our table cleared, to get drinks delivered to the table, to get our check taken care of. I think they are still looking for good servers, and since Napa is full of high end restaurants maybe they are having difficulty filling the positions of server.

      We appreciated that the server was honest about the portion size of the sides and didn't go for the upsell. I also forgot to mention that there is a raw bar, which is quite commonplace in Napa Valley these days. I still find that Bouchon in Yountville does it best, though, so we didn't even really look at that as an option.

      Also, it was physically cold in the restaurant. I don't know why that was, but I kept my wrap on for the duration fof the meal.

      I'd love to hear back what you order if you end up going. There were a lot of things I still want to go back and try, so votes for yea or nay from a fellow hound would be appreciated!

      1. re: Non Cognomina
        k
        katg Dec 14, 2006 06:54 PM

        non cognomina - how long does crush last?

        thanks for the review of go fish - i looked at the menu online and liked the idea of fish your way. we're headed up to napa in a few weeks - perhaps the kinks will be worked out by then.

        1. re: katg
          Melanie Wong Dec 14, 2006 06:56 PM

          Crush is over now in the North Bay wine regions.

    2. g
      gianni Dec 14, 2006 06:49 PM

      The lobster wontons are worth the trip. The decor is surprisingly witless considering the name.

      1. j
        jimtak Dec 14, 2006 07:08 PM

        I was blown-away by the negitoromaki...
        but will stick to the sushi bar for a while, until the staff and the kitchen get coordinated.
        Went there with a party of six, and were seated at a table. We ordered a wide selection of the sushi on the menu as appetizers, and ordered from the Fish Your Way and Fish Our Way choices. Then we sat there and entertained ourselve for a long while. Then a few makizushi (including the negitoro) arrived, then a sashimi selection, then some of the hot dishes, and then more sushi. Food had a good "aji" - flavor, and the cooked fish was done wonderfully. But the kitchens seemed to be producing orders in fits and starts, so a side order of brussel sprouts sauteed with panchetta - great dish - which was to had been accompanying the halibut cheeks, arrived after everyone was finished with the rest of the meal. Very young wait staff, so if they get better training, and the kitchen coordinated, this could be a better experience. And it is cold.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jimtak
          m
          megamalone Dec 14, 2006 11:43 PM

          Huh, I'll have to give it another chance - maybe they were having an off night when I tried it. I was unimpressed with the sushi, which seemed sloppily assembled and not terribly fresh. We also ordered from the "fish your way" section, and although the fish was properly done, the sauce was pretty flavorless and it was just kind of beached on the plate. I'm not the kind of girl who needs everything to look fancy, but it seemed like there was no thought put into it.

          I agree that the staff seemed inexperienced and out of it - we made it clear that we were there for a birthday, and not only did we get nothing to celebrate the birthday, but we also had to sit waiting to order for eons. It wasn't terribly busy that night, and I thought this was strange.

          The decor is really boring to me. There's a difference between "homey" and "homely" and I thought it fell into the latter category.

          But I'll give it another shot...I LOVE Cindy's other places.

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