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Author: Julie Fadda
February, 2012 Issue

641 Main St.
St. Helena
(707) 963-0700
Mediterranean cuisine
Lunch and dinner daily
Entrées (dinner): $15-$34
Full bar, excellent wine list
Cindy Pawlcyn’s newest restaurant, Brassica (Latin for “mustards”), has a menu inspired by the dishes of Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. The result is a blend of flavors that offer both comfort and surprise—in a nutshell: delicious. For example, a small bowl of assorted olives arrived at the table when we ordered (rather than the traditional bread basket).

Housed in the former location of Pawlcyn’s Go Fish (she also owns Mustards Grill—now you get the new restaurant’s name—and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen), its tasteful décor spans the open-feeling main dining room and adjoining smaller rooms (including one with a long family table). Its wine list is extensive and focuses on small producers, with a lengthy selection of wines on tap and by the glass.

We began with a “hibiscus sidecar” and a “belly dancer” from the specialty cocktail list. It was the belly dancer that stood out: a mix of cognac, pomegranate, chai sweet vermouth, lemon juice and orange simple syrup, chilled and served up.

On to appetizers: The fried bacon-wrapped dates (there were three) were irresistible, hot with perfectly crisp bacon and dense, sweet dates. The garlic shrimp were served hole in a brandy and espelette pepper sauce (nice heat) with plenty of garlic. Both items were small, very flavorful portions—what I think an appetizer should be.

A fuyu persimmon (thin-sliced) and pomegranate seed salad had plenty of lightly dressed Belgian endive and spiced walnuts (sweet) and went well with the contrasting flavors of the Domaine Carneros Brut. The artichoke heart salad was a savory mix of baby greens, red onions, egg, crisp bacon, coriander, cumin and hazelnut-sesame dressing. It went wonderfully with a toasty Laurent-Perrier Brut.

The Tunisian halibut was perfectly tender, with a brothy sauce of warm green (bright, big) olives, cherry tomatoes, preserved lemon and capers and had lively flavors that went well with a pairing of Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay (rounded, long finish).

The Moroccan lamb shank had meat that fell right off the bone (no knife needed), with a thick, sweet and spicy sauce, golden raisins, prunes and couscous, topped with tiny bits of lemon and fresh mint leaves. The Rock (Hudson Vineyard) Syrah went perfectly with it, both really brought out the flavor in each other (so well that I considered breaking into song, but then decided it might not be appropriate...). Both the salads and entrées were generous portions, and everything was beautifully presented with excellent service.

If you can’t decide what to have for dessert, first order some of the delicious Illy coffee (yum!), then go for the “five easy pieces.” These mini bites change regularly, but ours included a walnut roll (like a cigar-shaped baklava), yogurt sorbet, panna cotta, a crescent roll with figs and a chocolate-covered cinnamon caramel—a fun way to end a fabulous meal.



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