A new Sacramento restaurant called Allora has sprung up at the corner of 53rd Street and Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. It’s housed in a small but elegant brick building that until 2016 was the home of Rust Florist. With the retirement of Greg Rust, the building underwent an impressive transformation inside yet retains its lovely, modest exterior.
Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, who owns Allora with her husband, chef Deneb Williams, had loved the building from afar for many years and jumped at the chance to open a restaurant there. The fact that the former owners left the building to retire also lent an air of positive energy to the space.
In just a few short months, Mandalou and Williams have done great things with the former florist shop. Unlike the host of farm-to-table, let-the-ingredients-shine, simple-preparation, rustic-kitchen restaurants that have opened in the past decade, Allora has a definite fine-dining bent. The tablecloths aren’t white (in fact, there are no tablecloths at all), but the Italian-inspired dishes are artistic and architectural in their beauty, sophisticated in their flavors and jewel-like in their proportions.
The deceptively complex Insalta di Mare jumbles together cold shrimp, calamari, crab and mussels, all perfectly cooked and seasoned and served with a stunningly beautiful salad of shaved asparagus and pea tendrils. The plate is prettier than a spring garden, with a few strategically placed dots of forest-green dressing and a fluttering yellow pansy. (Almost every dish is finished with flowers to pay tribute to the original florist who built the space.) The textures are on point and made more interesting by the addition of a smattering of pillowy-soft cannellini beans. Much like the quickly vanishing spring, the plate is gone in a few forkfuls—just enough time to luxuriate in the experience and then regret it was over so soon.
A small but diverse selection of pastas, all house-made, highlights the kitchen’s impressive skills without showboating. The bucatini, layered with crab, sea urchin and garlic cream, is about as rich and indulgent a pasta dish as you’ll see. The cream sauce holds the dish together in a velvety embrace, not letting any one ingredient skip any one bite. It’s an impressive feat of cohesiveness.
For the cavatelli with sausage, chili, tomato and broccoli raab, the kitchen takes a rustic seasonal pasta and elevates it to a small, condensed dish with flavors so overlapping and layered as to be nearly overwhelming. It’s the kind of dish that makes you want to put the fork down in between each bite and quietly reflect.
Honestly, what kind of wine list could stand up to this onslaught of elegance and sensation? Mandalou, an advanced sommelier, opts for a stunning selection of Italian varietals from California, Italy and beyond. She smartly divides her wine list into three sections: “New World expressions of Italian varietals,” “Classic Italian wines” and “For the adventurous palate.”
On one visit, I let our server choose wines for us, and his aim was unnervingly on-target. Through each course, he brought glasses that were lovely complements to the dishes we were eating. The highlight was a dessert wine from Sardinia, a passito, so named because the late-harvest grapes are left out to dry and the wind “passes” through them. It tasted of dried apricots and sweet earth and paired delightfully with my olive oil cake and zabaglione.
Speaking of dessert, the offerings at Allora are as refined as the rest of the menu. The olive oil cake came dressed with dollops of mascarpone and gently dusted with flowers. Bomboloni—Italian doughnuts—were filled with huckleberries.
The service, especially at a restaurant open only a few months, is near-perfect. Friendly, professional, attentive without being cloying, the servers, bussers, bartenders and owners all make their presence known.
It’s no surprise that this is Williams and Mandalou’s third Sacramento restaurant. Allora shows a steady hand and wealth of experience.
What is surprising is that the duo have opened all three of their restaurants—Woodlake Tavern, Uptown Pizza and now Allora—within the past 18 months.
If that last year and a half is any indication, this impressive couple will help keep Sacramento in the national culinary conversation for years to come.