Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dish on Dining: Go Fish

Casting a Wide Net at this Seafood Spot
641 Main St., St. Helena
Napa Valley
PH: 707.963.0700
Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; weekends, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

ST. HELENA, Calif.
Cindy Pawlcyn is like the female version of Thomas Keller in Napa Valley, overseeing a restaurant empire that includes the venerable Mustards Grill, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, and her 3-year-old Go Fish seafood and sushi restaurant.

From the outside, Go Fish looks like any Napa Valley restaurant along Highway 29, with the ubiquitous cream exterior that blends in with the mustards or chardonnay grapes in the nearby fields. But inside, Go Fish is an expansive space with the elegance of fine dining mixed with the coziness of wine country.

I dropped in for lunch on a weekday and didn’t have a problem getting a table along the banquette that overlooks the highway. The booth was filled with pillows and I commented to the hostess that it looked like the perfect place for a nap after a few glasses of wine. (I don’t think she took too kindly to the idea of me bunking out at her restaurant.)

Just like the hybrid décor — is it an East Coast crab shack or a Hawaiian seafood hut? — the food is a bit all over the place. There’s a sushi bar and a raw bar with oysters, and the menu is sprinkled with New England influences along with Asian touches. The underlining theme, though, is that it’s primarily seafood (I say primarily because there were some chicken options.)

Adding to the confusion is that Go Fish is currently offering a select menu from Mustards because that restaurant is closed after a kitchen fire, and my waitress said Pawlcyn decided to offer some of Mustards’ standbys so the regulars would have some place to go.

I stuck with the main Go Fish menu, starting off with the cucumber salad with octopus, shrimp and crab ($11, or you can just get a plain cucumber salad for $6). The salad is the traditional Japanese salad of pickled sliced cucumbers, but enhanced in my case with the fresh seafood. The presentation was simple but lovely, showcasing the freshness of all the ingredients. The salad was topped off with some grated ginger and pea shoots.

I’m always a fan of the crunch of the cold cucumber with the sweet and sour pickle juices (Go Fish’s salad also had pieces of kombu, or sea kelp). And every piece of the seafood was incredibly fresh and cooked plainly, allowing me to savor the natural sweetness of the crab meat (three pieces), the one prawn and the three thinly sliced octopus (or is it octopi?). I appreciated the balance in the pickle juice because sometimes it can be too sweet or too sour. I thought this was a refreshing start to my lunch.

I also ordered the Oysters Victor, which sounded really interesting. The oyster is taken off the shell and baked, then returned to the shell with a sunchoke puree with bits of bacon and cheese on top. You can order as many as you want (it’s sold for $3 each), so I got three to try.

They looked really decadent in the yellow, creamy sunchoke puree (which actually tasted more like a froth), but I felt that the oyster-to-puree ratio leaned heavily toward the puree. So while the puree was nice and tasty, it really drowned the oysters and I felt like I didn’t get much of the oyster’s essence. (If I were on an Iron Chef America panel on an oyster challenge, I would probably comment something along the lines: “This was enjoyable and I loved the bits of bacon mixed in the puree, but I have to say that the secret ingredient wasn’t really featured.” Food Network, call me!)

Oh, I forgot to mention that for lunch I had a glass of the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Cliff Lede ($12) that was wonderfully dry and full in body. I thought it was a versatile wine to go with any seafood.

For my main dish I ordered Ken’s Noodles with Hana Broth and Tempura Prawns ($22), which is named after Ken Tominaga, the restaurant’s sushi master. You’re probably wondering why I would order a $22 bowl of noodles that I probably could get in Japantown for half the price. Well, some of you might remember that I went to Napa on my birthday, and my mom has drilled it into my mind that I need to eat noodles on my birthday for long life (the long noodles are supposed to represent long life). So her voice is always in my head reminding me to order some kind of noodle dish, even if it’s pasta or in this case, Japanese udon.

The noodles came out in a beautiful bowl and served with the traditional chili pepper. It was topped with three huge pieces of tempura prawns, but unfortunately the tempura was soggy. Now, you probably would say that, yeah, throwing fried shrimp into a bowl of soup would always turn out this way, but I’ve actually had some tempura ramen or udon in the past where they were able to expertly place the tempura at the last minute to retain some crunch.

But at Go Fish, it was like they didn’t even bother with that. Still, despite the soggy shell, the prawns were yummy because of the quality of the ingredient. The noodles, however, were slightly overcooked, so it was just as soggy as the tempura skin. The broth was deep and full-bodied, but leaned toward the sweeter side, which I wasn’t a huge fan of.

Ordering the udon is just a reminder to me that I really shouldn’t be ordering tradition Japanese dishes at a non-Japanese restaurant. But hey, I know my mom’s happy I ordered the noodles.

Despite the noodles, overall I was pleased with the offerings at Go Fish, mostly because the quality of the ingredients was top-notch and the service was like that at a fine-dining restaurant. And despite its eclectic décor, I found the space to be very welcoming.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Fresh Fish Style)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Go Fish on Urbanspoon


Jenster said...

That starter cucumber salad with the fresh seafood looks delicious. I think I could make a whole meal just ordering two or three of that!

So did you feel like taking a nap in the booth afterward? ;-)

foodhoe said...

I love sunomono, pea shoots sounds weird, sure it wasn't kaiware or daikon sprouts? The fresh seafood looks really good and sounded very delicious. Mmmm bacon... too bad they overwhelmed the oysters. The small ones on the half shell generally are best served raw and with minimal of fuss. Happy long life noodles! Was just about to say too bad about... but twice in one comment would be too much. Sounded good overall.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, I think you're right! It probably was daikon shoots. They were some kind of shoots, and it was just a garnish so not a lot of it to distract from the overall goodness of the cucumber and seafood.

Jenster, by the time I finished lunch the room filled up and I felt a bit self-conscious about laying down for a nap. ;-) (Although I really wanted too, but I was on a packed schedule!)

Unknown said...

If you haven't already, try Ken Tominaga's sushi restaurant Hana Japanese Restaurant in Rohnert Park (yes, killer sushi in Rohnert Park). I don't know that he gets fancy schmancy with noodle dishes because I sat at the sushi bar and didn't see a menu. Ken was there (he's usually there Tue.-Thurs.) and he set me up right with some of the cleanest tasting fish (mostly nigiri, some sashimi).