Some dining experiences involve great food. Others, impeccable service. There are those with charming décor and nuanced detail, inventive menus and effortlessly executed panache.
And then there are some that do it all. And do it well.
Sacramento’s Zagat-rated Mulvaney’s B&L is just that place.
My SacFoodies cohort Liz Conant has written about this local gem before. But because Mulvaney’s features a living, breathing menu with seasonal and mid-seasonal shake-ups all the time, I thought it was high time for a check-in.
Tucked away like some rare and unassuming book on 19th Street in midtown, this epicurean epicenter feels like it simply billowed to life one afternoon by the soft whispers of two disparate, though intrinsically linked spirits: the brilliant mind of chef-owner Patrick Mulvaney and the very real, very potent magic of the 1893 firehouse in which it sits.
Humming with energy and verve, the interior space sits about 50 lucky diners, though soaring ceilings and a bustling open kitchen let the space breathe flawlessly with the full energy of its often at-capacity crowd. Shelves chock-full of cookbooks, tasteful floral arrangements and quirky details like a dangling witch figurine lend irreverence, warmth and a disarming sense of familiarity.
It’s as if you’ve sat down to dinner at the home of your slightly eccentric aunt and uncle. Who also happen to cook unbelievably well.
Truth be told, my inaugural visit to Mulvaney’s was like approaching hallowed ground.
Luckily, I had three other dining partners with whom I could make the pilgrimage. And while I certainly enjoyed their company, it was the opportunity to “Ooh” and “Ahh” over that many more courses of plated art that I truly counted as my blessing that night.
Speaking of which, the food.
Justin’s Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
I have no idea who this Justin is. But apparently he’s in the business of making great soups. And that’s saying a lot, coming from someone who almost never thinks to order soup when eating out. I typically drink my appetizer—if you know what I mean. That said, I decided to make the most of my Mulvaney’s adventure and try something different.
And I was pleasantly surprised. The broth was quite flavorful and nuanced with an undeniable tone of earthiness that I loved. I like my salt, but the sodium profile was remarkably well-balanced here, lending delicacy and finesse to each taste. A sculpted pile of pommes frites floated atop this savory lake, providing additional texture and depth, too.
My favorite part about foie gras is the texture. It feels like edible silk on the tongue, so sinfully decadent and saturated with flavor. I have to say I was a little perplexed to see it paired on the menu with a State Fair all-star like our dear churro here. But with recent food trends taking low-brow staples and elevating them to the gourmet palate, I knew I was in for a treat. And paired with the apple and currant compote, this could very well have succeeded as its own dessert (albeit with vanilla ice cream, thank you).
But something magical happened. When paired with bites of this expertly seared foie gras, the effect was heavenly: equal parts tart, sweet, buttery—wrapped in an all-encompassing savory bow. The dish is listed under the menu’s “Small Plates” section, though I would recommend sharing with a partner as an appetizer. This should be experienced with someone else so you can both marvel at the surprising harmony of flavors.
Grilled Beeler’s Pork Chop with Arugula Salsa Verde
Hello, lover. Yes, this happened. And it was amazing. I was a little nervous that the sheer size of this chop would make for an uneven cooking. I mean, look at the size of this guy.
But it came out perfectly medium rare, succulent, juicy. Divine. Crowned with a colorful topping of arugula salsa verde, the cut also floated on a bed of creamy, house-made grits that I could not stop eating. Seriously. I don’t know what it is with me and grits, but as far as my taste buds are concerned, they are the plat du jour of life at the moment. And these fluffy, buttery, perfectly textured offerings from Mulvaney’s were everything and more. The side of Romanesco broccoli added a nice splash of color and helped balance the heartiness of the plate, too. It’s nice when the side dishes are just as amazing as the star, but never hog the total spotlight. A showstopper, through and through.
Valrhona Ding Dong
If that charismatic churro was any indication, I knew I was in for a real treat for the actual dessert. This playful presentation of devil’s food cake, mousse and ganache is a signature menu item, and for good reason. Perfectly unfussy, but expertly executed, this luscious little number rang all our bells. And this photo hardly does this Hostess homage any justice. I wanted to bathe in that glaze.
In all, a truly memorable experience. For a Sacramentan and a foodie, this felt like a long-overdue rite of passage. And one I look forward to reliving anew this spring when the menu changes, the weather improves, and the restaurant’s outdoor patio beckons.
Earlier, I equated Mulvaney’s B&L to a rare book tucked unassumingly away into the folds of the midtown grid. With all the restaurant’s character and charm, I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find that the check was actually delivered between the pages of an old book.
Also not surprising? The earnest praise and gratitude written between the pages of this tattered tome from countless other diners, through the years, who seemed as equally enchanted with their experience as I was.
1215 19th St.
Sacramento, CA 95811