New restaurant is big fish in small pond

Cindy Pawlcyn, the impish chef behind such Bay Area classics as Fog City Diner, Mustards Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, must have made a list of all her favorite fish and seafood dishes and then opened Go Fish, a sprawling, new-wave fish house, on Highway 29 just south of downtown St. Helena.

She and her team transformed the former Pinot Blanc space, which now stars a sushi bar and a long raw bar with comfy stools. Crisp white linen, nautical blue fabrics, old-fashioned white tile and a lot of light evoke the shore in a landlocked dining room. Tall arrangements of tree branches with colorful fall leaves and sunflowers bring the outdoors in, while white half-curtains on the front windows, a New England touch, keep the traffic jam on Highway 29 out.

Go Fish, just like all of Pawlcyn’s restaurants, embraces the homey, the cosmopolitan and the eclectic in one big hug. Patrons feel the love the minute they open the menu.

Many locals head straight for the sushi bar, which brings them closer to sushi master Ken Tominaga, a North Bay icon who is taking on a second project in addition to his lauded Hana restaurant in Santa Rosa. The Napa Valley has never had a sushi bar and this one is first-rate.

With impeccable sources for fish and consummate skill, Tominaga treats both demure sushi and flamboyant California-style rolls with equal integrity as proven by his kingly rainbow roll ($20) of crab, tobiko and avocado draped with red tuna, orange salmon and ivory yellowtail. I could taste everything, down to each grain of rice.

We traveled from Japan to San Francisco with a gorgeous shrimp Louie ($14), moist poached shrimp jewel-like on a pastel background of iceberg, cucumber, avocado and hard-boiled egg, united by a buoyant pink Louie sauce — a must-order.

I chomped a messy oyster po’boy ($11), two huge tempura-battered oysters in a toasted housemade buttermilk roll slathered with lively tartar sauce. A pile of crisp, made-from-scratch French fries on the side disappeared before I even noticed.

Those who want to avoid the French-fry temptation but love the sensation, order Go Fish & “Chips,” ($16), thin, crisp slices of deep fried local sole with a pile of buttery spinach.

For those who like their fish clean, a daily selection is simply wood grilled or steamed, and served with a choice of sauce. Alternatively, my favorite dish on the menu, miso-marinated black cod ($24), the most silken and fatty-fleshed of fish, is poached in shiitake broth, presented on a sticky rice cake, a little toasty on one side, and surrounded by fresh shiitakes and baby bok choy — an inspired Japanese/California collaboration.

Locals like the novelty of imported wines and chilled artisan sake. An affordable list features two of my favorite producers — Masumi and Dewazakura. Tourists mine a treasure trove of local wines at tempting prices.

A few weeks ago, I praised Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s new country-style prix fixe restaurant for being so right for its place. Go Fish struck me as being all wrong — until I ate there. Now I think sake, sushi,

po’boys, a raw bar, tuna melts and German riesling all belong here just fine. Only a gifted free spirit like Pawlcyn could pull it off.

Go Fish

Location: 641 Main Street, St. Helena

Contact: Call (707) 963-0700 or visit www.gofishrestaurant.net

Hours: Daily 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Price range: Sushi and rolls, $5-$20; small plates, sandwiches, $7 to $16; bigger plates $14-$32

Recommended dishes: sushi and rolls, shrimp Louie, miso marinated black cod, oyster po’boy, warm almond cake with pears

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted, dining room only

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