It’s Alora’s third night in business and I’m knuckle-deep in a plate of muhammara, shoveling the red pepper and walnut dip onto hunks of sourdough einkorn pita that arrived still plump from the oven’s heat.
Breads and dips are the gateway drug to chef Ryan McIlwraith’s menu of coastal Mediterranean mezze, a collection of (mostly) recognizable classics that are anything but stale.
He doesn’t just make baba ganoush, he combines whipped and twice-roasted eggplant with Calabrian chili and cilantro. He doesn’t just make hummus, he combines herbed tahini and garbanzos with Yemeni hot sauce (zhug) and chili peppers. He doesn’t just serve olives, he stews them in a sweet-and-savory honey-sherry and pairs them with whipped ricotta and fennel pollen.
Breads and dips at Alora.(Neetu Laddha)
The vibrancy McIlwraith (formerly of Bellota and Coqueta) dishes out is exactly what you’d hope for in the first foray beyond the Indian subcontinent for restaurateurs Anu and Vikram Bhambri. The couple, who pivoted from the fields of engineering and tech to open the first location of Rooh back in 2017, have built their reputation on progressive interpretations of regional classics served against a backdrop of opulent design. The same formula is deployed at Alora—and with great success.
There’s a kind of glamour to dining on the Embarcadero after dark, when the lights of the Bay Bridge reflect like diamonds across the inky water, that Alora captures both inside and out. The Art Deco–inspired ambiance of the interior is studded with buxom, metal stalactites and chandeliers wrapped in gold-brushed petals so delicate they’re translucent. Designers Manu Studios strategically deployed whispers of North Africa and the Mediterranean in brass screens, black and white patterned banquets, and rose tiles. On the geometrically tiled patio, SF meets Marrakech with an unobstructed view of the Bay and woven basket lanterns hanging from above.
On the table, a riot of color and spice complements the swank decor. In addition to breads and dips—don’t skip chef de cuisine Kaili Hill’s sourdough focaccia—Alora’s menu of mezze, pastas, dishes from land and sea, and large plates span the coastal cuisine of the Mediterranean from Spain to the Levant. The restaurant’s array of cocktails, including the jammy Casa Della Nonna (rye, sweet vermouth, blackberry balsamic) and the briney and refreshing The Sea (gin, akvavit, sherry, rosemary, tarragon, tonic, and olives), lean into the same flavor profiles with aplomb. Though this first menu focuses more on the northern Mediterranean, as the restaurant matures, both kitchen and bar will venture farther into southern Mediterranean cuisine from the likes of Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt.
Alora's opulent interior.(Neetu Laddha)
I follow up my dips with dolma, a frisky take on stuffed grape leaves with a sour bite from pickled chanterelles and a drizzle of smoked trout roe avgolemono that is simultaneously earthy and ocean-kissed. Though I opt to skip the bunuelo—a salt cod fritter made with jamon Iberico, hackleback caviar, smoked creme fraiche, and confit garlic aioli—our server confirms that it’s already become a favorite.
Next comes the escarole-ricotta ravioli, the sauce rich and nutty with brown butter sunchoke and pecorino, followed by an exceptionally crispy whole eggplant Milanesa crowned with lemon aioli. There are plenty of non-vegetarian options, too—gorgeously scented adana kebabs with sumac-onion sauce and fermented harissa; fettuccine with clams steeped in white wine, Calabrian chilis, and preserved lemon; oven-roasted confit octopus with tzatziki and potato pave—but it’s always a pleasure to find a restaurant that doesn’t primarily cater to carnivores.
For the dessert I have not saved room for but still cannot resist, I waffle between Hill’s burnt honey and carrot marmalade Basque cheesecake and the chocolate cake for two, a sky-high slice of spiced, layered chocolate topped with a confetti of pistachio and rose petals. It’s the scoop of cream cheese ice cream served with the latter that tips the dish slightly in my favor. Though I’m not really a chocolate cake kind of girl, this one delivers the silky decadence it promises and I have zero regrets as I inhale more than my share, putting the exclamation mark on my meal’s final sentence.
Even with only a few days in operation, Alora already feels like a well-oiled machine with friendly and attentive staff, and a parade of overachieving dishes from the kitchen. With lunch hours coming soon, and a diverse culinary heritage still yet to explore, the restaurant is poised to become a waterfront favorite.
// Alora is currently open for dinner nightly; Pier 3, The Embarcadero (Embarcadero), visitalora.com
Alora's chocolate cake for two topped with pistachio and rose petals and served with a scoop of cream cheese ice cream.(Neetu Laddha)