Midtown stalwart remains true to its farm-to-fork roots
By Greg Sabin
Think back to 2006. What do you think Sacramento saw itself as nearly a decade and a half ago? Where did you see Sacramento’s dining scene? Was farm-to-fork even on your radar?
In 2006, Heather Fargo sat as mayor, Kevin Martin led the kings in scoring and Patrick Mulvaney had a clear-eyed vision of what made the dining scene in Sacramento special. He recognized our rich agricultural legacy and year-round seasonal bounty, things we locals took for granted, as unique and something to be celebrated.
Nearly a decade and a half later, Mulvaney’s B&L continues to put out high-quality, approachable new-American fare that celebrates the fresh and local. Nearly every dish on the menu, a notably dynamic menu that changes daily with the harvest schedule, focuses on ingredients that come and go with the seasons. Under Chef Patrick Mulvaney and his wife Bobbin, the farm-to-fork ethos is clear and present in every dish that hits the table.
When looking back, I’m actually surprised that Mulvaney’s has only been open since 2006. It feels like part of the fabric of Sacramento’s dining scene, so much so that I can’t quite picture that scene without it. Patrick and Bobbin are consistent forces locally, whether it’s in championing mental health awareness in the restaurant industry, driving actions for the Metro Chamber or supporting culinary education through American River College.
The physical restaurant is housed in one of Midtown’s oldest buildings, an 1893 firehouse with soaring ceilings, original brick and oodles of charm. The bar, an intricate wooden structure, feels like it was pulled from a goldrush-era mansion. The lively chef’s counter, a marble-topped edifice, feels equally weighty. In fact, every piece of furniture looks like it wasn’t meant to be in a restaurant, yet fits in just fine.
The whole space, including the quaint fairy-lit patio, feels, my wife said, like the home of a friend. I second that observation. A dinner at Mulvaney’s is like dining at a friend’s house, a friend with Bohemian taste and deep pockets for sure, but a friend all the same.
Since the menu changes so frequently it’s a sure thing that the dishes we sampled over a few visits won’t be available at the time of publishing, but it’s worth it just to walk through some of the offerings to get a flavor of the kitchen’s approach.
One of the regular spots on the menu goes to a traditional smoked salmon with Irish brown bread, capers, hard-boiled eggs and a few other tidbits. While no item on the plate jumped out and grabbed me with originality and sophistication, I feel like that was exactly the point. The hominess of the dish, the generous slabs of house-smoked salmon and the precision with which each element was turned out speak to a kitchen where care is the No. 1 priority.
A plate of scallops, broccolini and garbanzos could simply not have been better. The scallops tasted of the sea, with a perfect sear and a buttery mouthfeel. The broccolini, so often a terrorized vegetable in my own kitchen due to my clumsy overcooking, came across elegantly. The garbanzos were pillowy and flavored with every other element of the dish.
A salad of chicories was a delight, the kitchen having deftly worked the characteristic bitterness from the small leaves, and highlighted the woody, winter notes. A small plate of squash tortellini showed attention to detail in each beautiful handmade pasta, but the delicate squash filling got overwhelmed by the indulgent butter sauce richly coating the torts.
Grilled swordfish with romesco stood out for its strength of flavor and simple preparation. I’m a sucker for swordfish and this was one of the finest pieces I’ve had in recent memory. The sauce, redolent of fresh bell peppers and winter herbs, seemed an unlikely foil for the swordfish, but instead worked magic into every bite.
At every stage of each visit, the service nearly overwhelmed with kindness, good spirit, attention to detail and professionalism. Beyond just having a good server, we were touched by at least six to eight employees checking in, dropping off plates, picking up empties, delivering drinks and just stopping by to chat. The feel was that of being at a dinner party full of happy strangers who were having as good a time, if not better, than you.
If it’s been a while since your friends with good taste invited you over to their fashionable abode for a delightful meal, then let Mulvaney’s be that friend.
Mulvaney’s B&L is at 1215 19th St.; (916) 441-6022; mulvaneysbl.com.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.