Cindy Pawlcyn’s Brassica: an exclusive first look

Posted by Stace on August 31, 2011 in Tourist in My Own Town |

While I haven’t spent my entire life in Napa, I am a native of this fine region. Five years ago this month, I was unpacking boxes, having just returned home from San Diego to go back to school. It was about a month after I got here that celebrity chef Cindy Pawlcyn (owner of the incomparable Yountville landmark Mustards, as well as the phenomenal Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena) opened a restaurant that would soon become a favorite: Go Fish.

Since then, Go Fish has been one of the places to be for locals and tourists alike. In addition to a fantastic seafood menu, the sushi was out of this world, and there was an extensive wine list to boot. Sadly, just short of its fifth anniversary, the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability ultimately led owners Cindy and partner Sean Knight to make the difficult decision to stop serving the sushi for which they were known. In doing so, they decided that it was a good time to take a look at what they were left with, and chose to shift gears away from Go Fish and into something new…the Mediterranean, to be exact. As of Sunday evening, Go Fish has served its last meal, but nearly ready to open in its place is the beautiful Brassica. (“Brassica” is latin for the family of plants we call mustards, which grow in both the Napa Valley and the Mediterranean, which cleverly links the restaurant to its concept as well as to sister restaurant Mustards.) Darren McRonald has stepped in to lead the kitchen, having traded places with Go Fish’s former chef Michael Foster, who has taken over at Cindy’s.
 This week I was given the rare (and delicious!) opportunity to get a sneak peek at the place, including the newly remodeled Brassica interior with a gorgeous wine lounge where more than 70 wines will be offered in 2 and 5 oz pours, which includes an exclusive list called the Brassica 12, highlighting twelve small Napa wineries without tasting rooms of their own.

In addition, several wines and a few beers will be offered on tap, and of course wine can be also purchased by the bottle, too.

(This intricate new artwork is done on a massive chalk board inside the main dining room. Take my word for it & don’t be tempted to touch!) In addition to getting a sneak peek at the renovations, I had a chance to taste bites of nearly everything on the menu, and as soon as I’d finished I couldn’t wait to get home and report back to the world – believe me, this is a place you’ll be dying to try!

First up, amid the tasting of quite a few wines, was a new cocktail called the Belly Dancer:

made with cognac, pomegranate juice, housemade chai-flavored sweet vermouth, lemon juice, and orange simple syrup. Starting then with smallest plates first, we tasted the pancetta-wrapped figs** with summer green maramalade toasts followed by the eggplant fries with za’atar and spiced yoghurt:

(Think you hate eggplant? You don’t. Try these, and you’re welcome.) Next we nibbled on fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and serrano ham, Dolmas stuffed with pine nuts, currants, mint, and fennel, and the unbelievably delicious grilled lamb “T-bonettes,” glazed with pomegranate molasses:

Next we sampled the lemon tabouli with little gem lettuce and sungold tomatoes, which was bright and perfectly delicious:

The classic flavors in the tomato & lemon cucumber salad with feta and oil-cured Beldi olives made the dish light, simple, and perfect:

I’m not going to pretend I’d ever heard the word ‘ful’ before this week, so in case I’m not alone, it’s dried Fava beans cooked with lots of lemon, cumin, and garlic. The end result is a bright, citrusy flavor with a hummus-like texture, and Brassica’s is served with the best hummus I’ve ever had, as well as eggs, red onion, sweet paprika, and housemade pita bread. I’ll be back for this one before long; I honestly could’ve cleaned the plate with my fingers! I managed to refrain, but only just:

I know at this point you may be starting to wonder how we managed to taste so many unbelievable dishes, but when you’re given a kind of carte blanche to taste so many exquisite flavors, you somehow manage to stop after just a bite or two in order to save room for whatever’s next.

Having said that, we began to struggle with restraint as the entrees came out. The baked California white bass** with dill butter, Ouzo, yellow tomato and pine nuts is such a beautiful dish that I almost didn’t want to destroy it with my fork, but you better believe I didn’t let that stop me!

(I have to say…many a favorite fish dish have I had at Go Fish, and yet already this one helps to assuage any concerns I may have had that Brassica will leave me wanting for anything.)

The grilled chicken with scallions, frisee, and piquillo gazpacho sauce was tender and perfect – the chicken may be the juiciest I’ve ever had (and the little bit of kick in the sauce’s flavor was on point):

The flavorful lamb kebabs are served with roasted tomato, poblano, and eggplant, and then drizzled with yoghurt sauce, served with housemade pita on the side:

Finally, we finished the savory portion of the meal with a dish I can’t wait to have again (this time, all to myself!) – the leek and pancetta risotto, topped with a fried egg:

Decadent + satisfying = de. lish. us!

It’s not much of a secret that I have a (nearly insatiable) sweet tooth, but I didn’t really have much “real estate” left in my belly. CP’s mini bites, a collection of sweets from around the Mediterranean, included a tiny piece of baklava with rose (a little surprise that took a favorite to a new level), a dark chocolate truffle, and biscotti. There’s a vanilla panna cotta with grappa and raspberries, a lemon pine nut almond cake with ricotta** that very nearly blew my mind, a chocolate muscovado torte (a flourless chocolate cake to savor with a great big, delicious red wine), and then the baked figs with cinnamon (served with vanilla ice cream, orange flower water, and a walnut roll):

Listen, before this week I’ve never really given much thought to figs. They’re interesting, and perhaps a bit uncommon (to me and many others, anyway), but they’re not really even on my radar. This week I’ve had them two different ways, and loved both. I guess I didn’t need much convincing: I’m a believer!

Lastly, I couldn’t resist what may turn out to be another early favorite: crème fraiche ice cream (if you’re not familiar with crème fraiche, it’s French-style sour cream, which is milder than our American version) with peaches in Moscato. To top it off, amaretti cookies are crumbled over the whole thing:

The truth is, as yummy as the peaches in moscato were, I’d order this again just for that delectable crème fraiche ice cream!

Unbelievably, I already can’t wait to go back to Brassica for a real meal. I’ve tasted a great majority of the menu, but now I’m ready to grab a few girlfriends and go share a few of my new favorites. For those who aren’t quite as fortunate as I to be able to get an exclusive preview, no need to be jealous: now that you know what you’re excited to try, the place opens to the public for dinner tomorrow! (Friday, September 2, 2011.) Trust me – you’ll thank me later. 😀

** Update!! As with most restaurant openings, Brassica’s menu has evolved since its first edition. The items denoted with stars in the original post, sadly, are no longer available.**
The good news is, however, that of course they’ve been replaced with equally delectable dishes, which I recently sampled over dinner with friends. In case you had your heart set on something I described earlier, here are some of the new additions to whet your appetite!
To start, we sampled the new fig and ricotta bruschetta,

baba ganoush,

walnut-stuffed kalamata olives with feta cheese and grilled bread,

harissa-spiced chicken drumettes,

and bacalao fritters (salt cod with potato) with orange saffron aioli:

We had so much fun tasting all the different choices that we decided to order several entrees and share, so we had the Moroccan lamb shank,

the baked penne bolognese,

the winemaker pork (red wine-braised pork shoulder),

the chanterelle, pancetta, and thyme pizza,

the pizza napoletano (with Beldi olives and anchovies),

and my favorite Brassica entree so far: the swordfish with broccoli rabe under a beurre noir with pine nuts, capers, golden raisins and piquillos – I did not want to share this one!

With hardly any room left, we shared the new Turkish pistachio cake with greek yoghurt mascarpone, dried apricots, and candied pistachios:

and the five easy pieces:

(On this particular night, they were a pot de creme, a lemon cream puff, a walnut triangle, a raspberry rose sorbetto, and a chocolate financier cookie – mmmmm!)

Brassica is one of those places that I’m certain I’ll keep coming back to, simply because every bite is delicious, and when that’s the case, really…what more is there to say?

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