What once was Babylon in downtown Raleigh has recently transformed into Mulino Kitchen and Bar, a rebranding that has changed the space from a Moroccan into an Italian eatery that straddles the line of a neighborhood osteria and a dressy trattoria. Much of the Moroccan decor has carried over in the menu makeover–the intricate tilework, the colorful lanterns and, yes, the glimmering pool–that remains the focal point in the courtyard outside.
Mulino also perhaps still reigns as one of the best places for ambiance in the downtown vicinity to enjoy a cocktail, or a meal, with friends al fresco in the evening, under the moonlight with the soft, pulsating beats emanating from a set of speakers compliments of the deejay head-bopping in the corner, resembling the closest thing to an oasis in the middle of the urban jungle that downtown Raleigh has to offer.
On a weekend night, the courtyard at Mulino is populated with swaths of young professional types, mostly in their late 20’s and early 30’s, eager to try out the newly-opened restaurant. Large parties of women, dressed in flowy palazzo pants and tassel statement earrings and men clad in linen button downs and twill shorts are gathered around long tables cobbled together studying the extensive wine list and menu comprised of rustic, traditional Italian dishes.
Nestled next to the outdoor bar, my husband and I are doing the same at our table, facing the Days Inn across the street that comically is need of a little extra love juxtaposed against an ornamental place like Mulino, as we take down some water and a Trophy Brewing’s Lord Stanley scotch ale to combat the humidity on the abnormally sweltering April evening. We fidget a little bit, slightly uncomfortable, sitting on top of the clunky, cumbersome wicker backless cabana furniture that seems very sensible for outdoor utilitarian purposes, but is anathema to any extended periods of comfortable sitting.
We bypass the calamari as an antipasto, though it sounds enticing, and each opt for a pair of Mulino’s salads. The rucola salad is simple and minimalistic, composed of peppery arugula tossed in a light vinaigrette and topped with puzzle-sized shavings of Parmesan. The burrata salad, by comparison, is more head-turning. Juicy grape tomatoes, ribbons of squash and zucchini, charred asparagus perched on top a bed of arugula sit next to a decadent, creamy cocoon of burrata. The salad is equally refreshing and decadent at the same time and transporting enough to make one temporarily forget about the humidity.
It may not make sense to order the Zuppa di Pesce on a warm day, but the Italian seafood stew turns out to be a wise choice at Mulino. A generous cauldron of seafood–salmon, clams, white fish and shrimp–comprises the saffron-perfumed stew. The vermilion-colored broth is rich and fragrant and you’d be smart to sop up the remnants with nubs of toasted bread. The only drawback to the dish this night–one of the clams is fully shut and a chunk of the salmon is undercooked on its underside.
The wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas are a feature at Mulino. The Mulino pizza is sizable, plenty for two to share, and to indulge in the blistered wet-centered pie topped with arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, tomato sauce and finished with a runny egg cracked into the center. The edges are nicely crisp and charred, though the slices, once lifted above the pizza pan, tend to be limp and anemic-looking because of the runny egg and it makes eating it a bit of a balancing act.
MULINO KITCHEN AND BAR | 309 N. Dawson Street Raleigh NC 27603 | 919.838.8598