It was a perfect celebration for a food lover – four days in Sacramento commemorating two significant events and eating at four memorable restaurants.
The original purpose of the trip was to celebrate Jennifer’s birthday with our son Lloyd, his wife Edie and their daughter Alise. We arrived in town a few days early so we could have some extra time to be entertained by our extraordinarily smart and incredibly cute 14-month-old granddaughter.
I decided to build some business meetings into the trip, beginning with lunch Thursday with a reporter/columnist I have known since 1965. We met while I was on assignment to the Capitol as a wire service reporter in August and my friend to be was working for another news wire service.
As I was walking from the parking lot to lunch at The Broiler, I realized it was the 42nd anniversary of the day I went to work at my first job in electoral politics – the day I left my career in the news business behind. How appropriate, I thought, having lunch on this anniversary day with an old colleague who actually covered that first campaign.
The Broiler has been a favorite of mine for as far back as I can remember. It also is symbolic of the vast change in the state capital in the years since I arrived there 46 years ago. When I first ate at The Broiler, it was a place of great character and little charm. It looked a bit dumpy because it was. The décor was Naugahyde and plastic. The walls sported a fair coating of grease from the grill that that had been turning out steaks for lunches and dinners for 49 years. In 1999 The Broiler moved to the ground floor of an upscale new office building two blocks from the original location. The menu has been updated to meet the tastes today’s diet-conscious patrons, but some of the old favorites remain. My two are the Chateau Steak, tri-tip sirloin on an open faced French Roll, and the Broiler Steak, sirloin also open faced on a French roll. Each comes with mushroom wine au jus.
Lunch the next day was a business meeting at Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, a relatively new and very popular place about a mile from the Capitol. The building is an old firehouse that dates back to 1893. The restaurant came along in 2008. The menu changes frequently, as the restaurant seeks out fresh local products daily. One lunchtime standby that I’ve had many times, including on this visit, is a wonderfully tender, wonderfully thick, highly flavorful pork chop.
The Firehouse in Old Sacramento, another converted old firehouse, was the site of dinner for Jennifer and me that night. It was Jennifer’s choice for a pre-birthday dinner. I dined at The Firehouse for the first time in the mid-1970s. I had a rack of lamb then that was so good I’ve never forgotten it. I had a rack of lamb at The Firehouse this week and it was as good as any I’ve ever eaten anywhere. I’m fascinated at how a restaurant can go some 35 years, having changed chefs several times, and still serve one dish that is so consistently outstanding. Because we live in Los Angeles and get to The Firehouse only about once a year, the lamb is what I order almost every time. I’ve dined at The Firehouse a few dozen times with various other people, many of whom ordered things other than the lamb and raved about the quality. The wine list at The Firehouse is another marvel, including many by-the-glass offerings from labels available only by-the-bottle at other places.
For her actual birthday dinner Jennifer selected Biba in east Sacramento. It’s one of my two favorite restaurants anywhere in California. We dine there at least once every time we are in the city and I try to eat there whenever I’m there by myself for an overnight business trip to the capital.
Lloyd and Edie joined us for the birthday celebration. A must every time we dine at Biba is a plate of calamari fritti for the table to get the evening started. It’s the best calamari fritti I know of, breaded just enough to give it texture but not so much as to obscure the flavor of the calamari. Then we shared a plate of gnocchi in ragu. Biba and Panzanella in Sherman Oaks are turning out the best gnocchi I know of consistently. For a main course I had the lamb chops. I know that’s two nights in a row for lamb. But Biba’s lamb chops are outstanding and lamb is my favorite meat. Lloyd had supper short ribs with a fabulous creamy polenta. Jennifer and Edie went for their personal favorites – spinach lasagna alla Bolognese, which usually is offered only on Thursday and Friday but was a special the Saturday night we were there.
All four of these restaurants are recommended at atLarrys.com, our sister web site. You can read more extensive recommendations of these four there plus recommendations of 28 other places to eat in Sacramento.
In addition to being a wonderful restaurant city, Sacramento is an excellent and somewhat unsung destination for sightseeing. Year ‘round, there is Old Town with a very good Railroad Museum and many interesting shops. The Capitol Building itself is a magnificent work of art, with extraordinary wood carvings and mosaics. The Capitol lobby has exhibits from all of California’s 58 counties as well as restored offices that served the people and the government more than a century ago. The Crocker Art Museum and The California Museum each are worth extended visits. At Sutter’s Fort visitors can see 12 canons and a jail that date back to the Gold Rush era. In the summer white water rafting is available on the American River and the Triple A baseball Rivercats play their home games at Raley Field in West Sacramento.
The tour books sing of the wonders of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Disneyland. But a wise traveler would be well served to add Sacramento to the target list of California destinations. And if you love great food at outstanding restaurants, there are plenty from which to pick.