I have to admit, most years I don't tend to participate in Dine Downtown. It usually falls after the holidays and I'm a bit burned out on going out, but this year I agreed to go twice. Mainly because the restaurants were two places that I love- Mulvaney's and Red Rabbit. Unfortunately, my experiences at the two businesses were as different as night and day.
Now let me preface by saying Mulvaney's is my favorite restaurant in Sacramento. I've had many a great meal there over the years. It's our go to restaurant for date nights as well as special occasions and the place in town we always recommend to friends, visitors and even strangers. So maybe that's why the lackluster food we were served on Saturday night really took me by surprise and disappointed me so much. The food we had didn't resemble any meal I've ever had at Mulvaney's.
For the Dine Downtown menu, we decided to try:
1st Course: Wood Ear Mushroom Scaccia w/ Frisee Salad
2nd Course: Ginger Grilled Mary's Chicken on Winter Squash Puree, served with Forbidden Rice and Sesame Bok Choy
3rd Course: Nena's Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Ice Cream
The first course resembled an oversized mushroom and cheese ravioli that had been fried. The scaccia exterior was charred and ugly as a Sicilian scaccia should be, but mine was also cold and chewy. Not a pleasant way to start off my meal.
The second course was our chicken entree. The skimpy serving of chicken was okay but boring. It lacked seasoning and quite frankly I've cooked better at home. The squash puree was bland and my bok choy was simultaneously mushy and slimy. Fail again. The one redeeming component on the plate was the forbidden rice but my intention for the evening was not to go out and spend $30 on a side of rice.
The last course was the chocolate bread pudding and I figured at least this course couldn't go wrong- afterall Mulvaney's is home of the Valrhona Ding Dong. Bzzzz! Wrong again. The bread pudding was dry as the Sahara and it's only saving grace was the tiny scoop of ice cream perched upon it, which as it melted softened up the bread pudding. For a moment, I contemplated spooning some of my coffee over the dessert but decided it probably wouldn't be very ladylike...that is until I noticed a woman at the table next to me doing the same thing.
The only thing remotely "Mulvaney-ish" about our night was the great service. Our waitress was friendly and attentive and her service was flawless from start to finish. Usually after dining at Mulvaney's, I like to retire to their cozy little bar for an after dinner cocktail but not after this dinner. The meal completely fell short of our expectations. I figured we should cut our losses and finish up our evening elsewhere. Now I know during Dine Downtown, restaurants are slammed with diners and they're just trying to get through the night; but instead of just turning and burning tables, they really should take the opportunity to let their business shine and show what their food and service is all about. Otherwise, why participate? As a repeat customer, I know that the food we had is not the norm for Mulvaney's but for someone just venturing to try the place for the first time, I could see them not being impressed or returning. Which is shame really, because on most nights Mulvaney's really serves up some delectable dishes from their kitchen.
Tuesday night, a friend and I decided to dine at Red Rabbit. We had both been there before and had liked the food and atmosphere. We were greeted by a host that may have been new to the job and just trying to find his footing. Although we had reservations, we had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated and he didn't take that opportunity to suggest that we meander over to the bar and grab ourselves a drink. As we waited for our table, I noticed that he kept dropping menus on the floor and appeared to be a bit scattered? Frazzled? Maybe a mixture of both? Anyhow, once we were seated with menus and water, there seemed to be a long lagtime as we waited for a server to show up and acknowledge us. Just as I was contemplating stopping a passing staff member to ask if we had a server, our server popped up. Now we were ready to roll.
From the Dine Downtown menu, I opted to try the:
1st Course: Local Roasted Beet Capresee w/ Orange and Basalmic Gastrique, Arugula, Marinated Red Onions, and Warm Goat Cheese Squares
2nd Course: Pork Ossobuco with Creamy Polenta and Roasted Garlic, Sauteed Spinach
3rd Course: Candy Bar Pie
I supplemented my dinner with two tasty cocktail drinks- a Dark & Stormy and a Krakow Salt Mine. The Krakow did a great job of showcasing the apple cider flavor. It's a good beverage if you want something delicate and not overwhelmingly alcohol tasting. The Dark & Stormy...whoa, baby! It was delicious but strong (that is not a bad thing btw). I'm no rookie when it comes to libations but that drink put me pretty far along to Tipsytown.
Although I've dined at Red Rabbit before I've never tried their beet caprese or pork ossobuco. I loved the beet caprese- the sliced beets were roasted perfectly, there was a nice balance between the citrus and the balsalmic and the marinated red onions gave it a nice unexpected tangy flavor and crunch. I loved the little goat cheese bites that were more like balls than squares, the panko batter on the outside was a nice added touch. The cheese balls were warm and creamy inside and crisp and crunchy on the outside. All the componenets of this starter course worked well. It's a dish I would go back and order.
For my second course, my waiter brought out a large serving of pork ossobuco nestled atop some creamy polenta and accompanied by a few stalks of broccolini (maybe they ran out of the spinach?). Both my dining companion and I were amazed at how extremely tender the ossobuco was- it fell just right off the bone and when scooped up with the polenta it was the perfect bite. Also, the broccolini was nicely cooked and brought some fresh, edible color to the plate.
For the finale course of my menu, I went with the candy bar pie which promised a melange of caramel, peanut butter butter cream and dark chocolate enveloped in a pretzel crust. The dish was a bit on the heavy side probably better suited for sharing then eating one all to yourself, but that pretzel crust---the unexpected crunchy and saltiness under the layers, really propeled the dessert from a "B" dessert to an "A."
Our server was polite, efficient, and dishes were spaced apart nicely. Not super chatty, which is fine as we didn't need much explanation on the menu that night and were engrossed in our own conversation. Overall, I felt that Red Rabbit embraced the idea of what Dine Downtown is all about and I was impressed with what they put out. In fact, it's only been two days since I've dined there but I've already told several people to go in and try them out for meals and/or drinks.