641 Main Street, St. Helena.
Lunch and dinner daily.
Scallop Ceviche – $10
Hawaiian Poke – $12
Big Eye Tuna Burger - $15
Grilled Rock Cod Sandwich - $12
Go Fish is Cindy Pawlcyn’s latest restaurant – Cindy being the clever woman behind St. Helena’s deeply reputable Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Mustards restaurants. I admit I have not tried Mustards, but Cindy’s is just about my favorite restaurant in California. Her riff on Oysters Rockefeller – Oysters Pablo – is about the closest thing to an out of body culinary experience I’ve had in my short life. I could happily plow through pounds of the delicious, delicious roast duck that comes out of their wood burning oven. Let’s not even discuss the peppermint ice cream.
So Go Fish.
Go Fish is Cindy’s venture into the exciting and extensive world of seafood, with Ken Tominaga handling the sushi bar side of the venture. On the left side of the road as you enter Napa, the restaurant is roomy, airy, and quite attractive, with that crisp white table-clothes and tasteful yet quirky ambience I expect from the Napa region. We were quickly seated at lunchtime on the open patio, which is a lovely place to sit, dappled in shade from the trees. Ambience: score. But food?
The menu is large, diverse, and absolutely stupefying when first presented to you if you are of the “I want to try everything,” disposition like myself. A representative from pretty much every culture’s take on How To Cook A Dead Fish is here – from ceviche to sashimi to little-neck clams, and that’s just the raw stuff. How the hell do you choose?
Incoherently, in my case. The waitress hovered expectantly over me and I blurted. I wanted the scallop ceviche and the Hawaiian Poke. I subconsciously didn’t want them to cook anything. My mother had the grilled rock cod sandwich, and my dad picked the big-eye tuna burger, which is definitely an evocative name.
My ceviche came out first as it was technically an appetizer. The scallops were juicy, fresh, and delicious, helped along by the spicy broth and the pieces of onion, mango, and pepper diced up with the seafood. After I finished it, I found a few pieces of avocado at the bottom of the dish: a pleasant surprise.
Entrees came next. My poke was not what I’d expected: instead of the usual casual salad of tuna chunks, onion, and vinegar, it was a carefully molded mound of raw and high quality tuna, accompanied by various artistic squiggles of condiments: spicy mayo, seasoned salt, sliced avocado, an assortment of chopped red and yellow pepper.
It didn’t have much to do with poke, but it was certainly tasty, if ephemeral. The quality of the fish is one thing Cindy has aced: this was as fresh as can be.
The cod sandwich featured a very large slab of cod on buttered bread, served over crunchy coleslaw. The fish was peppery and skillfully cooked, but it wasn’t transcendent – and that’s kinda what I’ve come to expect from Cindy’s restaurants. The potato chips on the side, however, were made in house and seductively delicious. The sandwich came with homemade sweet pickles and carrots, which were crisp and excellent.
The tuna burger was certainly satisfying, with the fish presented in such a way that it tasted eerily like a bloody beef burger instead of something from the sea. This was a good thing – I’d happily order this next time I visited. The French-fries were also tasty, with the skins left on and plenty of sea-salt.
Service was prompt and good, if a little bit awkward: our waitress wavered confusingly between casual and efficient. Pick one! Still, any complaints about slow or rude service have been addressed: food came out quickly and correctly, and everyone was perfectly polite.
So is Go Fish worth the money? Can it stand up to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen?
Eh, I guess. The food is tasty, but it’s not as delicious or inventive as the stuff served at the Backstreet Kitchen – and why the hell don’t they do Oysters Pablo here too? The menu is long and quite frankly too diverse - I don't want to or need to spend an hour and a half considering what continent I want my fish to come from. Still, the fish may be expensive, but it is fresh, tasty, and excellently sourced, which is hard to find in the Napa area – and this is one of the only games in town if you’re looking for good sushi.
Visit Go Fish if you just want a solid seafood meal with upscale pretensions, but don’t expect the Ultimate Seafood Experience – they’ve got a ways to go.