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  • Allen Pierleoni /

    One of the four courses at the upcoming Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner will be roasted pork with blistered pepppers and other veggies.

  • Randall Benton /

Inside Mulvaney’s Tower Bridge Dinner preview

Published: Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 - 2:44 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013 - 12:02 pm

Like a few other A-list restaurants in Sacramento, Mulvaney’s B&L has made a specific effort to bring the concept of seasonal-local-sustainable dining to reality since it opened in 2006, with a menu that changes daily. But years before that, chef-owner Patrick Mulvaney was working to help pioneer the local farm-to-fork movement, along with guys such as Rick Mahan (Waterboy) and Randall Selland (Ella).

So it was natural for Mulvaney to take a leading role in the Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner on Sept. 29 and host a “walk-through reconnaissance” at his restaurant this morning. More than 20 chefs, kitchen staff, bakers and servers from Mulvaney’s, Ella, Grange, Magpie, Hawks, Tule Bistro and Karen’s Bakery-Cafe gathered to discuss the inaugural dinner. And to view platters of the four finished dishes (prototypes, but nearly there), to see the physical size and place settings of the tables, and to discuss the mechanics of cooking for and serving a family-style meal for 600-plus hungry guests. Served on a bridge over a river.

Last October, Mayor Kevin Johnson — backed by a consortium of chefs, restaurateurs and the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau – proclaimed Sacramento as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” Ever since, restaurateurs, farmers and civic boosters have cooked up ways to bring something big to the table. And they have.

The inaugural Farm to Fork Week, Sept. 21-29, will be a celebration of growing, harvesting, eating and drinking, featuring special events at area farms, restaurants, breweries and supermarkets.

The two centerpieces will be the free Farm-to-Fork Festival, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28 on Capitol Mall, and the sold-out Tower Bridge dinner — appetizers followed by four main courses with wine and beer served at tables set up on the bridge. The $175-per-person tickets sold within hours of being offered last July.

As for the menu, we got up close and personal with the four dishes displayed in a side room at Mulvaney’s. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a fork. The locally sourced, family-style meal looks like this:

First course: A salad of tomato, melon and cucumber with lemon verbena dressing, topped with mint and basil leaves.

Second course: Hardwood-grilled lamb sausage on top of summer-vegetable succotash, splashed with chimichurri sauce.

Third course: A whole roasted pig, boned and reassembled into a “pave” (paving-stone shape) and topped with blistered peppers, onions and other goodies.

Fourth course: Brined, cold-smoked and roasted whole sturgeon, tied into a circle. In the middle, heirloom tomatoes, pear compote, endive, runner beans and crispy potatoes.

Which restaurants consulted to create and refine which dishes?

“For us, the whole thought is that this is a celebration of Sacramento chefs celebrating Sacramento’s food, so we all agreed (to say) that we all did the food, we all take the credot,” Mulvaney said. “This is all the chefs working together in a (program) to bridge, if you will, the rural and urban connection. You’ll see 100 or so chefs on the bridge that night. We all have egos and we all work in an autocracy, where we’re all used to being the king. So it’s cool to see everybody step back and work together.”

In another room, the attendees sat attentively at long tables and listened to Bobbin Mulvaney, co-owner of the restaurant with her husband, talk about the hands-on logistics of the event. She is organizing the “front of the house,” she said, and gave presentations on such topics as platter refill, dish management, service and inventory control.

Before she began, she told me, “This isn’t a street fair, so we want to do it right. There are a lot of logistics, and my role is to make sure we have the foundation to hold up the event, keep the continuity and fulfill the original vision.”

As part of her presentation, Bobbin Mulvaney set up a model of one of three dessert stations that will be set up post-dinner on the patio of Embassy Suites, across the street from the Tower Bridge, on the Sacramento side. “It’s to show the (pastry chefs) the things they can use to display their desserts,” she explained.

Let’s say you couldn’t get tickets to the Tower Bridge dinner, or can’t afford the tab. Then you might consider a farm-to-fork alternative. The Off the Bridge Dinner at Broderick Roadhouse is just $40 in advance ($45 at the door) for courses of pork, lamb and side dishes, supplemented by fare from food trucks. You won’t be passing platters to Sacramento’s elite foodies, but you can grab a beer and listen to live music by Unsupervised. Broderick is at 319 6th St. in West Sacramento. Tickets are at

For more on the Tower Bridge Dinner, go to

Mulvaney's B&L is at 1215 19th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-6022,

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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