5331 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95820, (916) 451-8838

I took my hyper-critical Asian mom to Pho Xe Lua during her recent visit and was pretty pleased with the establishment. PXL touts itself as an "authentic asian cuisine" restaurant, but in my opinion their forte is their Vietnamese dishes. The restaurant is squirreled away next to a Budget Inn and not much to look at from the outside but is quite surprisingly expansive inside. Upon walking in, you'll think you've mistakenly wandered into some sort of enchanted Asian Wonderland. The foyer is done up with a river rock encrusted wall where a serene waterfall cascades, then to your left you'll encounter a large gilded ox with a little jockey perched on its back. Not sure what its significance is, but I found it to be charming and a bit humorous. Despite my determination to "act grownup," I couldn't quell the desire to reach out and pet the shiny ox. So I did and got both a dirty look and a sharp whack from moms. Ouch!

During our visit, I found the staff to be quite attentive and friendly. Many of the waitresses were greeting arriving customers by name and seemed to know their standing orders. Pretty impressive in my book, for a place that's only been open for about a month. One of the two waitresses we had was quite patient and spent about ten minutes discussing ingredients with my mom. Also, when asked about smoking (my mom lives in a state that has yet to go smoke-free), the waitress helpfully advised that there was a little shaded nook outside with an ashtray stand where my mom could indulge in her nasty cancersticks.

As for our lunch, I opted for the bun tom nuong (charbroiled shrimp over vermicelli noodles). It was prepared perfectly both in taste and in aesthetics. The serving was quite huge and despite being ravenous, I only ended up finishing about half of it. My mom opted for the pho tai (a beef noodle soup with slices of rare steak that you toss in) along with some goi cuon tom (shrimp summer rolls). I think her eyes were bigger than her stomach, because she barely put a dent in her soup despite happily slurping away for a half hour and she ended up taking the summer rolls home. The pho at PXL comes with the obligatory bean sprouts, cilantro, hot peppers and lemon. Also, the necessary condiments are placed on each table, so you don't have to flag anyone down to get some sriracha. I appreciated this small touch as I don't like anyone or anything to come between me and my sriracha.

After dabbling in the sampling of Vietnamese food for the last several months (thanks to a Yelper friend who turned me on to it), I can understand now why Anthony Bourdain, when asked which food he enjoyed the most out of all the countries he visited during his Cooks Tour, replied, "almost everything I ate in Vietnam." The ingredients are fresh, there's a nice balance of contrasting flavors, and a minimal use of oil ... making the dishes quite healthy. PXL does a great job of sticking to this and hopefully it won't be a flash in the pan, as I hope to continue to patronize the joint. Especially since it's open 7 days a week from 8am-10pm... perfect for a bowl of pho for breakfast on a hungover Sunday morning or a late summer dinner when the sun goes down. Also, the prices are reasonable ( $5-$7 for most dishes). But most importantly, it passed the mom test.

(Mulvaney's Pig Roast Event)

1215 19th St, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 441-6022

While trapped on a plane, I once read a funny quote by author, Frederic Raphael, in which he stated, "Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one's belt buckled." And after eating at Mulvaney's, one would definitely have to loosen his or her belt in satisfaction of a truly great meal. As someone who has worked both the front and back of the house in the restaurant industry, I'm a strong believer that service in a dining establishment is as equally important as the food itself. Mulvaney's hits the bullseye on both counts. The service was superb and the food blew me away.

Mulvaney's Artisan Cheese Platter with Fig Jam

I got there a bit earlier than my dining companions and was surprised to be greeted immediately at the door by a warm smile and friendly welcome from the hostess. She checked me in and asked if I'd like to be seated or to wait in the bar. I opted for the bar. Yes, I know...typical Ally. The bartender was terrific and I wish I had inquired what his name was. He had such an upbeat attitude and genuine smile. He was helpful in my selection of a chardonnay (great rec-- the Hook and Ladder chardonnay) and spent some time answering my questions about the night's menu. He was so enthusiastic about the night's offerings that it made it hard for me to decide what I wanted because EVERYTHING sounded so good after chatting with him.

Front of the Restaurant

Our server, Taryn, was terrific. She was knowledgeable about the menu, efficient and quite personable. I loved the fact that she remembered small details (like my food allergy) and was able to make suggests to adapt the dishes so that I could partake in them. Never once did she make us feel rushed despite the fact that it was a full house. We began with a tasty amuse bouche of asparagus wrapped in proscuitto with a hint of balsamic vinegar...delicious! Such a simple dish, but it gave you a sneak peek at how Mulvaney's allows its seasonal produce to speak for itself.

We continued our food journey with the house smoked salmon appetizer and a soft New Zealand Pinot. The salmon was smooth in flavor and served with a thick, squishy soda bread and a creme fraiche. My dining companions opted for the halibut and the chicken with biscuits respectively and were kind enough to swap bites. The chicken was roasted perfectly and enveloped in a deliciously crackley skin and accompanied by asparagus and homemade biscuits. The halibut was a first-rate contender. Not overcooked in the least and joined by flavorful looking beans and a light salad. Each dish was presented exquisitely. Myself? I chose the ribeye with fig butter, sans the bleu cheese. I asked for medium-well and the grill cook was spot on. The meat was tender and savory and did a phenomenal job of appeasing my desire for a worthy piece of red meat. The quarter cut roasted potatoes were robust and balanced the tart greens with almonds.

Sea Scallops with Watermelon Salsa Fresca & Green Tea Soba Noodles

If that wasn't enough, we topped off our evening with two desserts...yesssss! Count them DOS desserts. One was a decadent chocolately piece of heaven that resembled a childhood treat--ding dongs. The latter, a bananas foster with vanilla ice cream. The bananas were swimming in a pool of ambrosial delight concocted from brown sugar and dark rum. Our bill was presented to us in a bound book and we were told to feel free to express ourselves and leave a written comment.

By the end of the meal, my arteries were screaming, "God save me!" whereas, my stomach was doing backflips in gratitude. Mulvaney's strives for perfection with it's gastronomical delights and comes through with flying colors. I'll definitely be returning...after I buy a bigger belt.