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Love is in the air: Sophomores splurge on Sacramento's finest restaurants to determine best Valentine's date By sanjana Anand and Sicily Schroeder

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, sophomores Sanjana Anand and Sicily Schroeder reviewed four of Sacramento’s best-rated restaurants. They assessed the atmosphere, service and food and concluded which one would be best for a date night.

Tapa the World ★★★★☆

We had high expectations for Tapa the World (2115 J St.). Our friend, sophomore Lilah Shorey, had told us that it was her favorite restaurant, and it’s rated 4.4 stars out of five in Google reviews.

We went to Tapa the World on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 4 p.m. Because it’s downtown, parking was difficult, and our waiter told us it’s harder to find a spot at night.

There were no other customers in the restaurant when we arrived (no one has dinner at 4 p.m.). Upon entering, we noticed a small stage to our left and an open bar to the right that went along one wall and connected to an open kitchen area. The artwork, room design, decorations and guitar music all added to the Spanish atmosphere of the restaurant.

The menu was simple and had many vegetarian options. There were many different serving sizes, and customers can choose how many plates they want to order. The orders are meant to share, which adds to the romantic mood.

Tapa the World can be both romantic and casual, so it’s perfect for any situation. It was the best restaurant we reviewed.

The first things that came to our table were the focaccia basket ($1.50) and dipping sauce ($1.50), which were our favorite appetizers at the restaurant.

We felt obligated to try the soup of the day, mushroom ($5). We later remembered neither of us like mushrooms and immediately spit it out. It had a good, creamy texture, though.

We got the grilled chicken strips ($9), which were juicy and had a lemony aftertaste.

We also ordered crackers and cheese ($9.50), a small, toasted slice of bread with cheese similar to pepper-jack. It came with red peppers, jam and almonds, but the bread was too hard, and we preferred it with just the cheese on top.

We had potato wedges ($6), which were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The sauce that came with them did not go too well, so we ate them by themselves, and they were pretty bland.

We ordered the shrimp ($11) — Lilah’s favorite — and decided they were not as flavorful as we would have liked. The broth was creamy but didn’t add much to the shrimp.

Our last main dish was the grilled vegetables ($11). The vegetables were over-grilled and too big, but the sauce drizzled on top was tangy and flavorful. Both of us agreed that the sauce would be nice in a burger.

For dessert, we had fruit empanadas ($8.50), the best thing we ordered. They tasted like mini-pockets of apple pie served with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle. The combination was great, and we ate it all quickly.

Sophomores Sanjana Anand and Sicily Schroeder eat fruit empanadas at Tapa the World. ALL PHOTOS BY ARIKTA TRIVEDI

The service was fast, but we were the only ones there, so we did not get a realistic experience (as with most of the restaurants we reviewed).

The biggest problem with Tapa was the claustrophobic seating. The tables were only about two feet apart, which might become annoying for a couple on a date during a busier time.

Our total came to $68.51, pre-tip, which was reasonable for the amount of food we ordered. Overall, Tapa the World can be both romantic and casual, so it’s perfect for any situation. It was the best restaurant we reviewed.

Mulvaney's Building and Loan ★☆☆☆☆

We went to Mulvaney’s (1215 19th St.), a New American restaurant, for lunch at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, without a reservation. However, our waiter told us that it gets busy at around 7 p.m. almost every night, so you will almost definitely need a reservation for dinner. The parking is similar to Tapa’s, but there’s construction across the street, so parking might be rougher than usual for the moment. Online, Mulvaney’s was shown to be one of the most expensive restaurants in Sacramento.

The restaurant looks worn down and small from the outside, but inside it’s spacious and fancy. There’s an option for outside seating, but it was too cold, so we stayed indoors. There is an open kitchen, and huge mirrors hang on the walls. The tables are decorated with little coasters of colored marble and wine glasses of water and small dishes of salt and pepper. These tables were also really close together and small, so it was a bit cramped.

The menu is relatively expensive, has little variety — around five entree options — and changes daily. So if you’re picky, this is not the place for you.

The first thing to arrive at our table was the complimentary bread. The soft bread went perfectly with the red-sea-salt-covered butter. It was by far our favorite bread at any of the restaurants.

The atmosphere (at Mulvaney’s) is perfect for a classy and serious date for Valentine’s Day if you are an adult. On the other hand, the food is mediocre and not worth the high price.

Next came our two starters ­— the cheese plate ($19) and Del Rio salad ($7). The cheeses were exotic and overwhelmingly fancy. The crackers with cheese were thin and very salty. It was really hard to spread the cheese on the cracker because the cheese was so hard and the cracker was so flimsy. The salad was flavorful because the balsamic vinegar dressing was dominant.

For our entrees, we ordered the pork chop ($18) and the tagliatelle with mushrooms ($19) because it was the only vegetarian entree. The pork chop was tender and well cooked, and the garbanzo beans were the perfect side. The housemade tagliatelle, a type of pasta, was creamy and tasted very strongly of mushrooms. We didn’t like the flat noodles, and we don’t like mushrooms. However, if you like mushrooms, this dish is perfect.

The service was really good, but we came at a slow time (in fact, there were more workers than customers). Waiters checked in on us frequently, pouring water and getting more bread and butter. They were also really nice about explaining the menu to us.

This was the fanciest restaurant we reviewed. We wished that we had dressed fancier, and judging by workers’ attire and the other customers, teenagers obviously were out of place. The atmosphere is perfect for a classy and serious date for Valentine’s Day if you are an adult. On the other hand, the food is mediocre and not worth the high price. We didn’t order dessert, and our price pre-tip was $70.27. Even though Mulvaney’s is rated 4.7 stars online, this was the worst restaurant we reviewed, and we would not return.

Clockwise from top left: 1 Pork chops at Mulvaney’s B&L. Sophomores Sanjana Anand and Sicily Schroeder said the garbanzo beans went well with the chops. 2 Schroeder bites into a slice of bread and butter at Mulvaney’s B&L. 3 Anand scoops a chunk of cheese at Mulvaney’s B&L. 4 Anand and Schroeder toast glasses of water at Mulvaney’s B&L before the food arrived. 5 Complimentary bread and butter at Mulvaney’s B&L. According to Anand and Schroeder, this was the best bread they had at any of the restaurants they reviewed.

The Melting Pot ★★☆☆☆

Our reservation at The Melting Pot (814 15th St.), a fondue place, was at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8. Because the restaurant is also downtown, there was traffic, and parking was difficult, but there is a paying parking garage nearby. Online, The Melting Pot is rated 4.5 stars on Google Reviews.

We had reservations, but we saw a couple waiting for 20 minutes (even though it was a weeknight) because they didn’t have reservations. On Friday nights and weekends, the restaurant is busier.

Our first impressions of The Melting Pot were that it was quiet and formal (we were definitely underdressed and out of place here, too). The lavish decorations and dim lighting added to the atmosphere.

The dining area is spacious, unlike at the other restaurants, and it felt almost as though we had the place to ourselves from our booth. There was no need to raise our voices to speak.

The Melting Pot is perfect for a romantic date if you want something formal and are willing to pay the price.

Both of us had been there before, so we knew how to order. But for newcomers, the menu is hard to understand, and you really have to pay attention when the waiter explains it to you. The menu is divided into appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. However, the top of the menu offers a four-course meal featuring the most popular items.

Customers are supposed to choose different fondues and dips for dinner, and each serving comes with sides that are meant to be shared. The appetizers were fondues of different cheeses; the entrees were meats, vegetables and pastas cooked in different seasoned oils and broths; and the desserts were different types of chocolate fondues. This menu did not have many vegetarian options.

The server makes the fondues on the stove on the table and explains what they’re putting in. Our server was very accommodating and honest when we asked for recommendations for our sides.

We ordered three of the available four courses. You can order any number of courses.

The first thing that came to the table was the Fiesta cheese fondue ($21.50 for two people). The fondue had cheddar and Swiss cheese with salsa and jalapenos. To dip in the cheese, we had an assortment of bread pieces, apples, chips and vegetables. This was our favorite course, and we liked being able to decide how spicy the cheese was.

Because we skipped the salads, our next course was the entree. We ordered the make-your-own entree ($27.50), so we chose chicken and vegetable potstickers, garlic pepper sirloin and tomato and mascarpone ravioli to cook in the oil.

We chose the Mojo cooking style for our oil, which was terrible and a huge mistake. We really didn’t know what we were doing when we ordered it, but it did not go well with any of our entrees. The Mojo is a Caribbean style with garlic and cilantro, but the cilantro was overpowering. We would’ve been better off with just the vegetable broth. The marinara in the ravioli was disgusting, as were the potstickers. The meat tasted fine but would have been better if cooked with a different oil.

For dessert, we ordered the Original ($21 for two people), which was milk chocolate and crunchy peanut butter in one pot. The peanut butter made the chocolate somewhat dry and cold, but the taste was rich. We liked it best with the strawberries and bananas, but it also came with an assortment of baked brownies, fruit and marshmallows, which were all delicious!

This place was the most expensive restaurant we reviewed. The serving sizes were small, and, for only two people, the price was not worth it. The total came to $78.37 before the tip.

However, The Melting Pot is perfect for a romantic date if you want something formal and are willing to pay the price. The menu can be difficult to understand, but it’s tasty, and the booths provide a sense of privacy. It’s perfect if you have an excuse to treat yourself to some nice food on date night.

Clockwise from top left: 1 Plan B’s marinara tartelette. It came with roasted tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. 2 Sophomore Sicily Schroeder bites into Plan B’s marinara tartelette. The molten lava cake at Plan B. According to sophomore Sanjana Anand and Schroeder, the combination of chocolate and ice cream worked well. 4 Plan B’s apple tart. According to Anand and Schroeder, it was good, even though the apple slices were too large. 5 Plan B’s Caesar salad. Anand and Schroeder said it "had the right amount of dressing."

Plan B ★★★☆☆

Plan B (555 La Sierra Dr.) was the final restaurant we reviewed. We made our reservation for 4:30 p.m., when the restaurant opened for dinner, on Jan. 10. As usual, no one really has dinner at this time, so we were the only ones in the restaurant. It has a parking lot, so parking wasn’t an issue.

Plan B serves French food and is rated 4.5 stars online. There’s an open bar and a specials board on the right when you enter. The place seemed a bit small, as there were few seats. The lighting was dim, and there were no decorations on the walls, which we liked. The simplistic style was pleasant and highlighted the hanging lights. There was also outdoor seating, which looked pleasant, but we sat inside.

The restaurant is known for its mussels, but there are many other great options such as the meats, salmon and salads. Unfortunately, there were few vegetarian options besides salads and tartelettes.

For an appetizer, we ordered the marinara tartelettes ($8) and marinière mussels ($16). The tartelettes were generally good and came with roasted tomatoes, basil and goat cheese, but the cheese on top was somewhat overpowering. The mussels seemed like an obvious choice, considering they’re Plan B’s specialty, but neither of us particularly liked them.

We ordered the roasted half chicken ($19.50) from the main section with sides of vegetables and french fries. The chicken was great but too big for us. The french fries were thin and crispy with garlic, and we liked them the most. We also shared a Caesar salad ($7.75), which had just the right amount of dressing.

For dessert, we got the chocolate lava cake ($9) and apple tart ($9). We loved them! The lava cake was the perfect mix of warm, oozing chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The tart was similar to the fruit empanadas from Tapa the World and went well with the ice cream, although the apple slices were too large.

Even though we were the only ones in the restaurant, it took a long time to get the food. Still, our waiter was nice and patient and even gave us a few recommendations, which we used.

For the amount of food we ordered, the prices seemed reasonable, and this was one of the cheapest restaurants we reviewed. The total came to $81.60, pre-tip, even with two desserts.

This place had a nice vibe, and you could come here on a serious or casual date. Overall, this was our second-favorite restaurant.

By Sanjana Anand and Sicily Schroeder

Originally posted in the Feb. 4 edition of the Octagon.