During a day trip up to Napa Valley, Sheila and I decided to try Cindy Pawlcyn's re-invented Brassica in St Helena. It used to be a seafood joint and is now a Mediterranean Kitchen. Inspired by the flavors of Northern Africa, Morocco, and Turkey, Brassica serves a healthy selection of mezzes, small plates, entrees, and a hugh variety of Napa Valley wines.
Located in the heart of St Helena, Brassica is warm and inviting with several distinct eating areas. The decor is French country, shabby chic with a subtle wine country references. The host and wait service was rather friendly and efficient; a pleasant surprise given that Sheila and I often get the "minority" treatment. This evening, we opted for sampling of mezzes, rather than a large meal - baba ghanoush, sheared haloumi, eggplant fries, and the dessert sampler ("five easy pieces").
The baba ghanoush (oven roasted pureed eggplant) was served cold with crispy pita chips and sesame seeds. It was a standard dish, but nothing spectacular. The eggplant was fresh and earthy, the sesame seeds added a nice crunch, and the pita chips were drizzled with sea salt and spice powder. I preferred to eat it with the table bread, which was a soft and warm than the chips, which tasted over-crisped.
The seared haloumi (salty goat and sheep's milk cheese from Cyprus) was served sizzling hot in small skillet. It was seasoned with red chili flakes, oregano, and garlic - and in our estimation over seasoned. All you could taste were the spices - which was a shame because haloumi has such a salty flavor and distinctive layered texture - it could have been mozzarella for all we knew.
The eggplant fries were served with a zatar yoghurt, which was underwhelming. The fries were under-seasoned, needed both salt and pepper to wake it up. Sheila felt like the zatar yoghurt tasted like pine sol, perhaps because of the added mint and spices. The fries themselves did not hold up their crispiness and basically tasted liked lightly breaded eggplant sticks.
The dessert sampler was by far the best dish of the evening. The five small taster included chocolate pot de creme, baklava, honey fig ice cream, hard nougat candy, and ricotta tart. Each bite had distinct taste - the baklava had a traditional earthy flavor (the most Middle Eastern tasting bite of the evening); the pot de creme was cool and bittersweet (a great French influenced bite); the ice cream was sweet and super creamy (a California fresh figs and honey definitely came through); the tart had a crunchy crust and soft (not overly sweet but surprisingly light) custard; and the nougat candy (chunky walnuts gave a depth of textures).
Neither Sheila and I were fond of the meal. This is of course because of high water mark for Mediterranean food is Gem Restaurant in Islington, North London. Perhaps because this was a Middle Eastern inspired California restaurant and not a traditional one. However more so than that each dish was an extreme; some were under-seasoned and others were over-seasoned. If in the area again, unfortunately I would pass on Brassica.