Café Plan B
1226 20th Street, Sacramento
Happy Hour is front and center on this restaurant’s website when you click Café, so it seemed an obvious choice for the Happy Hour Hound to sniff out.
The special, mussels and frites (fries) for $10 and draught Kronenbourg 1664 lager for $3 from 2:30 to 5:30 on weekdays, can’t be beat if you’re looking for a more upscale late lunch or early dinner.
Not everyone likes mussels. I asked a few friends to join and they declined, citing this very fact, and even our own Submerge editor says she isn’t daring enough to try them.
Mussel is the name for several kinds of clams that can come from both freshwater and saltwater, and the texture is usually what gets people. The meat of the mussel is plump and smooth on the outside with a slightly chewy bite.
Mussels are one of the most sustainable shellfish to catch, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. They are also healthy (when not doused in tons of butter), easy to cook and beautiful in their colorful dark shells. In some restaurants, the chef will remove the meat from the shell depending on the dish, but in the case of Café Plan B, the traditional French and Belgian moules et frites are the highlight of the menu.
My husband and I had our first taste of this unfamiliar combination earlier this year in Bruges, and the experience in Midtown this week comes nostalgically close. The Café itself looked like it was plucked from the Bruges town square—a tent-like exterior has windows that remain open in summer and is lined inside with white-benched tables, with booths in the middle of the room. The black and white tables dotted with red candles are placed just far enough from each other to allow for intimate conversation, and the friendly staff gives you space to slurp your creamy mussel broth in peace.
On this particular late afternoon, we also had the entire café to ourselves for more than an hour. I wasn’t sure if this was a sign that people just don’t know about this place yet, since it’s been open just under two years, or if 4:30 was a little early for the happy hour crowd. The reason could also be that happy hour in Midtown sometimes conjures up images of bar stools and televisions, but Café Plan B has neither.
To keep my bill around $20, I chose the popular mussels with nantaise broth (normally $13.95) that is made with butter, shallots, white wine and crème fraiche; a pint of 1664 and crème brulee for dessert ($7.95). Sounds like Christmas came early, huh?
The skinny cut fries came out first and were seasoned with herbs that elevated them from the usual shoestring. I ordered a side of aioli (I never saw ketchup with fries in Belgium but did see mayo, and the same is true for the café), which was equally herbal and delicious. Our waiter wouldn’t tell us the secret ingredients to the aioli, but let’s just say I have a new idea for what to do with those leftover Thanksgiving herbs in the fridge.
The mussels came out in a wide, deep dish beautifully presented, accompanied by toasted baguette slices. If you want to impress a date, but don’t want to spend more than $50, this meal will do it.
My husband, on his non-Hound tab, ordered the poulette broth for his mussels, and I actually liked it better than the nantaise, which seems to be getting all the attention on Yelp. The diced pancetta and thyme in a rich cream had that savory umami that keeps you eating even after you’re full, whereas my broth was sweet with a milky tartness from the crème fraiche.
After throwing the last of my mussels in the tin bucket provided for shells, and sopping up broth with my baguette and fries, I didn’t think I’d have room for dessert. Unfortunately, if you have crème brulee on the menu, I will order it.
The crème was simple but perfect—vanilla bean peppered the entire fluffy custard and the fired sugar top sat thick, like an ice skating rink, my husband noted.
Now, before you dismiss Café Plan B because of its mussel happy hour, take a look at the rest of the menu. It’s not part of the special, but several appetizers and sides are under $20. I know I’ll be going back soon to try the venison carpaccio ($12.95), the pancetta-wrapped prawns ($6.95), the homemade ravioli ($10.95) and the French onion soup. They also have bottles of one of my favorite beers, Gavroche, along with a unique and varied wine list.
Plan B, the original restaurant, is even more upscale in looks and has a larger menu. It’s located in the Arden Town Center but doesn’t include the happy hour.
You could easily spend too much at either location, but I didn’t find it difficult to keep the tab low for a fine French dining experience. Just keep in mind this is a heavy meal, so don’t plan on going back to work afterward.