The word on the street is, Brix is back. Named for the scale used to measure grape sugar, the definitive Napa restaurant had a decade-plus run both as tourist dazzler and happy-hour hangout for winery locals. Then Brix suffered a hiccup of revolving-door chefs and so-so reviews. When the Bohemian last visited (March 12, 2008), our reviewer lamented that a new chef and his exciting fusion fare had already come and gone before she could get there, leaving a "straightforward California bill of fare." Shortly afterward, restaurateur David Gingrass and team were contracted to redesign the interior and the resto was rechristened "25° Brix," the ripeness at which Napa vintners say they pick grapes. But reviews only got worse, ranging from the tepid to the savaging.
By at least 25 degrees, this house is back in order. Brix owners dropped the silly modifier, restored the restaurant's name and recruited chef Anne Gingrass-Paik, an early light of fusion cuisine whose background spans Spago to San Francisco's Postrio and Hawthorne Lane. Gingrass-Paik was looking to merge into the slow lane of wine country, and this opportunity came at the right time.
The menu is still generally contemporary California—with a renewed focus on fresh produce from the visibly harvested garden—with subtle flares like flash-cooked fresh green beans in a light tempura batter, and hints of teriyaki in the light crust of a tender beef filet, drizzled with pesto. The majority of the 11-acre property is occupied by the Brix vineyard, which also underwent a change in vineyard management a few years back. The recently released 2005 Kelleher Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, available as one choice from the extensive and not badly priced by-the-glass list, demonstrates the results of this low-yielding Oakville vineyard.
There's plenty of patio seating looking out onto the greenery, but for the next three months, Brix is taking it further—taking it to the street, and across the globe.
"Brix Unpaved" is a unique Thursday dinner series that allows Gingrass-Paik to get back to the roots of fusion cuisine. Three evening outdoor buffets celebrate "street food" from international cultures by transforming the space between the garden and patio into a food stall-lined street scene, illuminated with strings of light bulbs. This Thursday, Aug. 20, "Mumbai Fare, Bollywood Flair" means veggie and chickpea fritters, various dahls and curries coupled with fresh-made naan. In September, "One Night in Bangkok" will feature noodle shops and a satay bar reminiscent of Thailand, with a Sicilian-themed evening of pasta and seafood rounding out October.
A comparatively economical introduction to the new old Brix, "Brix Unpaved" looks like fun as long as the weather holds up—hey, for a night in Sicily, a little rain might add atmosphere.
Brix. 7377 St. Helena Hwy., Yountville. Street food series, $35–$40, includes gratuity. 707.944.2749.
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