641 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn
Ken Tominaga, Sushi Master
Chef Victor Scargle
Lunch and Dinner Daily
Tried: January 2007
Nothing was bad at Go Fish. In fact, the New England clam chowder was probably one of the best I have tasted-- with fresh clams that are not overcooked and a briny yet rich broth, not the least bit gloppy or thick, with the addition of Pernod adding a dimension of savory depth, topped with buttery, crispy crouton bits accentuating the fluffy chunks of potatoes and diced carrots and celery. The dining room was spacious yet comfortable, with large windows facing Main Street and a long sushi bar lining the back of the restaurant. The atmosphere and the food, including the enormous (and consequently unwieldy) menu, all reminded me of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants in Chicago. While consistent with Cindy Pawlcyn's background, this impression did not enhance my pleasant but unremarkable dining experience at Go Fish.
The problem. While nothing was technically bad, nothing was great at Go Fish either, apart from the service which was attentive and welcoming without being overbearing. The sushi, particularly with Ken Tominaga from Hana in the billing, could have been better. The kanpachi carpaccio was actually hamachi, and not really "carpaccio," just slices of less than ideally fresh hamachi swimming in a thick yuzu-miso vinaigrette that tasted more like creamy Italian dressing. Although thinner slices of the fish would have diminished the creaminess of the hamachi, I expected something different or unique with the description, "carpaccio." I liked the cucumber and ikura (salmon roe) garnishes on the hamachi, but the ikura were not fresh enough nor brined enough to provide the requisite salty accent. The hirame sashimi, on the other hand, served with wedges of creamy deep-pink ankimo (monkfish liver, my favorite after duck liver) topped with pine nuts and served with ponzu were as delicious as they were pretty.
My favorite among the sampled dishes was the seared scallop topped with seared foie gras served in a nest of kaitafi-- sweet, crispy shredded phyllo dough-- accompanied by hearts of palm and wedges of grapefruit and orange. It was rich, sweet, savory, and refreshing all at the same time. If I had a complaint about this dish, it would be that I wanted more of the perfectly seared and seasoned foie gras. I did not try the shellfish raw bar items, the soup of the day, sandwiches, ceviche, sweetbreads, steak, the Japanese noodles or the tempura.
The featured item on the menu, "Fish Your Way," included five different fish selections ranging in price from $18-$27, prepared in one of three cooking methods (sauteed, poached or grilled) with the diner's choice of sauce-- a la Tom Colicchio's menu styling at Craft-- scallion ginger sauce, tartar sauce, red wine fumet (concentrated fish stock infused with leeks, onion, celery), lemon caper brown butter, olive and piquillo pepper tapenade, and ginger curry butter. This does not include any side dish which must be ordered a la carte, but both the fish and the side dishes are quite generous in portion. I selected the opakapaka, poached, and asked that the chef select whatever sauce would go best with the preparation. The result was not bad, even though the electric green scallion ginger sauce was undersalted and the fish overcooked, and the opakapaka was quite fresh, which I appreciated. I preferred the Pacific Snapper, with its crispy sauteed skin, in a clear carrot-ginger broth, even though this too was underseasoned. The broth was soothing and the thin slices of sunchoke, radish, and carrot garnishing the fish were vibrant.
For dessert, I tried the lemon verbena panna cotta with quince doughnut and huckleberry compote. The flavor of the panna cotta was nice but the texture was too thick such that it seemed more like a custard, and both the huckleberry compote and the quince doughnut were a bit on the too-sour side.
I guess I was expecting more from the announcement that Scargle had become involved with this venture. Since he is not even listed on the web site, I am wondering whether this is just an interim gig for him until he finds something more stable and permanent, given the rumors about the financial viability of COPIA, where his previous restaurant, Julia's Kitchen, was housed. I'm glad I tried it and may even go back if Scargle remains long enough to streamline the menu and add his own touch.