After a humdrum meal at Zinfandel Grille, I was more than ready for something real (I should have known from the "e" at the tag end that ZG might disappoint). ZG's right across from the hotel, very busy, heard it was good, so figured it was worth a try and was too tired to Chowhound it out. Mistake. Service was very friendly, if a bit overeager, and the ideas were good- mixed salad with blue cheese and walnuts (oversugared), pork roast with bourbon-infused apples (pork roast, said to be medium, was more than cooked through and just shy of rubbery, and the apples having lost any memory of being crisp and the sauce just too sweet)- almost saved by the sharp, tangy mustard greens, if it were not for the too-buttery liquid that they were steeping in at the bottom of the plate. Thought the berry-peach fruit crisp would redeem, but the crust was an uncooked, soggy mass and the fruit cooked far to long to have a hint of their original flavor or texture. Frankly, way too expensive for what it delivers- unless you like to pay for the pretense. Not me. Time to turn to the ones who know, and Chowhound was the next destination.
Thank you, Bennyboy, for the recommendation (see link below). Following your lead (but not in a scallop mood), I went for smaller plates. Started with a fat boy amber ale, just the tonic for a hot Folsom day. The tequila-grilled prawns with chili sauce and lime were far better than I had expected. The presentation was very appealing- large shrimp ringing a deep red shimmering pool, with slices of lime crossed at the 12 o'clock mark. Not too fussy, but clearly someone took the time to make it look great. A bite of shrimp first. To my surprise, it was just right- that satisfying crunch yielding to juicy flavor that you get only when shrimp is fresh and not overcooked, a difficult mark to hit. Even in SF, where I've had my fair share of lackluster crustaceans. The chili sauce also was remarkably good, not at all too sweet (often the downfall), with a bit of smokiness and vinegar, and the perfect foil to the tartness of the fresh lime. I polished them off too soon, and looked forward to a little more of the sauce with the bread, which had gone unnoticed off to the side of the table. The only true faux pas, unfortunately- springy, tastless white bread with a minor grace note of cheese along the top crust. I tried a little but, not without a little disappointment of the lost opportunity to keep tasting that sauce, realized I had to just walk away and put it out of mind. Ah well. Time for the second plate.
To accompany the grilled shrimp, I thought the smokiness of the grilled meat and the chipotle vinaigrette in the grilled steak salad would go well. It sure did. A large, black square plate arrived, edged on two sides with a variety of colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes that burst with the sweet tartness of flavor, a fan of medium-grilled, tender steak slices sloping off of mixed greens with red onions, red and yellow pepper strips, and crispy tortilla strips. The steak was solidly good, but could have used a bit more smoke to stand up to the chipotle vinaigrette, which was just the tiniest bit sweeter than I'd like but still very tasty. The combination of colors and textures pleased the eye and the palate equally, and was a real pleasure. The fan of avocado at the back, balancing the fan of steak at the front, didn't quite measure up- it just wasn't ripe enough (had to use a knife to cut it, and it didn't have the buttery mouthfeel nor the nutty taste that avocado should deliver).
Feeling like I had come back to good, honest, fun but not pretentious food, I ordered dessert (not my usual weekday thing). The tiramisu packed a lot of flavor- I really liked the unusually strong, clear coffee and chocolate notes, which cut through the cake and cream like an emergent trumpet solo. The cream, though, was just a little less good, not quite voluptuously smooth although, thankfully, not quite grainy either. Again, a very nice presentation- a tower, almost too big, with a nice sprig of fresh mint and blackberries (so that's where the fresh blackberries from ZG's fruit crisp went).
No question I'll be back next time I'm in town. It has a great price/flavor balance, a very good deal for a very enjoyable meal. I liked the service very much too, which was friendly and upbeat but not at all overpresent, and the live music- though I would have either preferred more original music/fewer covers or a lower volume. Thanks again, Bennyboy! I won't forget to Chowhound first next time!