Folsom foursome

It doesn’t pay to blink when traveling through Folsom these days. It seems like I was there just a couple of months ago, and the traffic was backed up behind the stop sign at the American River bridge just like always. But last week, the stop sign was gone, replaced by a sweeping approach to the bridge that completely bypasses old Folsom, and we nearly missed the new exit that leads to Paragary’s.

Actually, make that the Zinfandel Grill. While I was blinking and that new approach was being installed, Paragary’s in Folsom and Fair Oaks changed its name. Same owner (John Hankard, not Randy Paragary as most of us, myself included, have probably assumed all of these years), but he’s decided to rename his two establishments after his favorite kind of wine.

Anyway, almost missing that exit didn’t matter much, as far as making it to dinner on time was concerned. The Zinfandel Grill doesn’t take reservations. I have no idea why, although someone suggested it’s to increase the bar take. Maybe so, since we and the couple we met for dinner spent nearly an hour in the packed bar waiting for a table. Nice bar, by the way. Bronze and gold ceiling with square, art deco air vents, rust-colored brushed velvet walls, lots of dark wood, Corian tables and two TV sets tuned to game-one of the Subway Series.

We found a similar theme inside the restaurant, a spacious, rectilinear room divided by three bronze-painted columns and adorned with cherry-wood paneling, potted palms and ferns and seashell-shaped hanging light fixtures that mirrored the wall sconces. Together, these elements set a misty amber tone that is conducive to intimate conversation.

Since we were starting late and quite ravenous, we immediately ordered the antipasto plate and the best bottle of Zinfandel in the house, which the waitress informed us was Warrior Fires, by Karly Wines out of Plymouth. She was dead-on with the selection, which was light and aromatic, proving once again that Amador County wines are nothing to snivel at. However, her suggestion that each of us order an individual antipasto plate was a bit optimistic. Two plates would have been plenty for the four of us, and one would have probably done the trick.

Our friends split a house salad of mixed baby lettuces with bleu cheese and walnuts topped with balsamic vinaigrette, which was competent. We were not so fortunate, opting for a mushroom salad laced with shreds of Jarlsberg cheese and seasoned with lemon juice and fresh parsley, which failed to alter the sharp, overly pungent taste of the mushrooms.

Entrees faired slightly better. Our two fish aficionados selected the grilled filet of salmon, as the halibut special had already run out. One person went for the grilled flatiron steak, and I chose fettuccine with curried prawns. The salmon, crispy brown on the outside, with a moist and steamy pink interior, was tops, aided by a risotto of saffron-pear couscous that was tender, sweet and outrageous. Our beef-eater loved her steak (although for the price, I expected a better quality of cut), which was cooked a perfect medium and situated atop a bed of caramelized red onions and baby spinach and served with firm, thin slices of Yukon gold potato gratin. Plentiful large, juicy prawns swam in my fettuccine, which could have used a touch more curry.

We finished with warm pear gingerbread … la mode and a huge slice of Italian cream cake, which left the four of us so sated we couldn’t move. So we talked late into the evening, and no one seemed to mind.