Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Revolution at the right time

Sometimes, a simple plan for lunch becomes snagged in a cosmic vortex of uncontrollable circumstances. That’s when the plan changes and often works out for the best.

Like last week, when we set out in the Batmobile for the just-opened Vietnamese restaurant Coriander. It’s named after the herb that’s prevalent in Asian, Indian and Mexican cuisines, and is more familiarly known in supermarkets in its fresh state as cilantro.

My lunch pal and I circled the blocks around the intersection of Alhambra Boulevard and S Street on the outskirts of midtown Sacramento, where Coriander is sited and where parking is San Francisco-scarce.

Hmm. We squeezed into the jammed parking lot of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, maneuvering into a narrow space under the guidance of two “attendants” wearing vests and waving red batons, reminding us of the ramp agents who guide jetliners to and from their jet-bridge docks. Was there a grass-fed beef giveaway going on?

“We can buy something in the co-op on the way out,” I said, walking toward Coriander and not wanting to take up a parking space without patronizing the co-op.

Midway across the street we noticed a line standing outside Coriander’s door. “There’s a 30- to 40-minute wait,” said the hostess.

In a minute we were navigating the co-op parking lot once more. Parked delivery trucks, prowling SUVs and close quarters forced us to creep down an alley, make a right and then a left. That’s when we spotted Revolution Wines, where the parking lot shared with Temple Coffee also was jammed.

Inside “Sacramento’s urban wine bar,” as the small-production winery calls itself, we realized we couldn’t enjoy the best part of being there – flights of reds and whites – because of being on the job. The wine list says the sauvignon blanc tastes like “grapefruit, tangerine and dried herbs,” while the zinfandel burst with the flavors of “ripe red fruit, thyme, ginger root and granite.” Granite?

We settled for iced tea and a menu of small plates, sandwiches and charcuterie ($4 to $17), though we considered moving from our table in the bistro to eat at the wine-tasting bar. We stayed put, though, to enjoy the view of the landscaped patio outside our window. Plus, we didn’t want to misrepresent ourselves and ask for more iced tea instead of two three-taste flights of Revolution’s award-winning vinos ($12 to $16).

Soon, our server appeared. “There’s no chicken left for the chicken salad,” she said, “but you can have the salad without the chicken.”

Thanks, but we sampled a spectrum of other items instead, obviously designed to pair with wine, starting with “herb-toasted” mixed nuts. The warmed melange of walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts was good-looking but a bit stale, in need of more “herb dust” and maybe a dash of salt.

A roasted beet salad was gorgeous, but “it’s more like a lettuce wedge with sliced beets on top,” said the lunch pal. The red and golden beets were firm and tangy, and the lettuce was crunchy, the whole set off by “candied macadamia nuts,” blue cheese vinaigrette and crumbles of mild blue cheese.

Moving to sandwiches, we split two, both on bread from Acme Bread Co. of Berkeley. Both showed up with a side salad of super-fresh greens, and both contained sautéed onion, which was tasty but not an ingredient mentioned on the menu.

The messy “Terra Haute” (“high ground” in English) was a soft ciabatta roll nestling roasted mushrooms, zucchini, greens and mildly spicy red pepper, with luscious burrata cheese and a heavy smear of garlic aioli.

Better was the “Hot Cure,” layers of intense soppressata and coppa, fennel salami, burrata, aioli and scant marinara on a crusty, chewy baguette. The side salads were fresh and bright, with the right touch of sweet dressing, helping cool the heat from the spiced meats.

“This is a nice summer meal – a good sandwich and a good salad,” said the lunch pal. Now if we just had glasses of wine ...

Oh, branzino

For weeks, we’d been hearing about the sea salt-crusted European sea bass served at Zinfandel California Cuisine in Gold River, and dropped by for a taste. The silvery saltwater fish goes by many names, one of them “branzino,” and is highly prized in Mediterranean countries.

Restaurant owner Mario Veske sources fresh-never-frozen branzino from the island of Cyprus. A case holds 24 fish, and the supply is hit and miss. “Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t,” he said on the phone Monday. “People call us in the afternoons to reserve it. If we have it, it’s usually served as (an off-menu) special Thursday, Friday and/or Saturday nights.”

The whole fish is seasoned with rosemary, garlic and lemon, then encased in two pounds of sea salt, wrapped in foil and oven-baked. At tableside, the foil is opened, the salt crust cracked and the fish is meticulously removed by hand from the bones. The chunks are plated and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and with lemon wedges on the side. The fish is succulent and delicious. Accompanying are world-class sautéed spinach and creamy mashed potatoes ($33.95).

“It’s our rock star,” Veske said, “and nobody else has it.”

Zinfandel California Cuisine, 2220 Gold Springs Court, Gold River; (916) 853-9600,

BTW, there is no relationship between Zinfandel California Cuisine and the independently owned Zinfandel Grille on Fair Oaks Boulevard.

Fish tacos at B.J.’s

Sure, B.J.’s Brewhouse is a chain restaurant with outlets in 17 states (64 in California), mostly known for its deep-dish pizzas and award-winning beers.

A new item on the menu of the store at Arden Fair caught our eye. Two soft tacos were rolled around char-grilled mahi-mahi with chipotle mayo, creamy dressing, Napa cabbage, carrots, red onion and cilantro. On the plate with them were ramekins of spicy “avocado cream sauce” and salsa, with chips. We tasted and we liked, and the price was right at $9. Get it at 1689 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 570-1920;