Mediterranean restaurant Alora docks at the piers of the Embarcadero with a grand opening on Thursday, January 25. It’s the latest in a group of ambitious eateries from restaurateur-couple Vikram and Anu Bhambri, who together own three locations of ROOH, including one in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood; the recently opened Pippal, their first East Bay restaurant located in Emeryville; and more openings on the horizon, including Fitoor, the couple’s ambitious spot in the South Bay’s Santana Row set to debut later this year.
But Alora represents a departure from the couple’s previous restaurants, which center Indian cuisine; instead, the Bhambris’ latest is focused on Mediterranean cuisine, inspired by the couple’s love of travel and love for food. Those two sentiments prompted the couple to enter the restaurant world in the first place — the Bhambris both worked in tech before starting ROOH — and to build restaurants that recreate India’s rich food scene in the Bay Area. Now, it’s what drives their latest restaurant, Alora, Vikram Bhambri says. “We went through a similar journey when we were thinking about doing Alora,” he says. “It was like, what else do we like to eat besides Indian food when we go out? And the first thought that came to mind was Mediterranean.”
The Bhambris tapped chef Ryan McIlwraith (previously Bottega Napa Valley, Bellota, and Coqueta) to lead the kitchen. The couple were fans of Bellota and had known McIlwraith for close to 10 years, including working on a collaboration dinner with him at ROOH, before they reached out to him for their first non-Indian restaurant project, Anu Bhambri says. Alora’s food is meant to showcase food from the countries that touch the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Turkey, among others. The menu begins with a “breads and dips” section featuring McIlwraith’s take on items such as an eggplant dip that features whipped and twice-roasted eggplant with Calabrian chile; roasted pepper and walnut dip with feta, pomegranate seeds, and pomegranate molasses; and espelette chile miso dip made with miso from Shared Cultures. Dips arrive with either market vegetables, sourdough einkorn pita, or sourdough focaccia. Mezze plates are also done up, such as the restaurant’s two-piece mushroom and herb-stuffed dolmas, which come topped with pickled chanterelles, and an avgolemono sauce with smoked trout roe. A singular buñuelo from the menu also skews luxurious, a salt cod fritter topped with confit garlic aioli, a folded slice of jamon Iberico, and Hackleback caviar, served atop a bed of smoked creme fraiche.
Larger dishes include seafood such as an oven-roasted confit octopus item served with tzatziki, potato pave, and marinated cauliflower. The restaurant’s carrot fattoush features both poached and roasted carrots among a mix of farro, arugula, slivers of blood orange, pomegranate seeds, and triangles of crispy pita from the “Land” portion of the menu. Meanwhile, the pastas made by the Alora team command a hefty chunk of the menu, including a showstopper 100-layer ‘nduja lasagna, which features a ‘nduja-laced pomodoro sauce and bechamel inside, with each order individually seared to create a delightful crust on its exterior. The Adana kebab, meanwhile, is a nod to Turkey, featuring beef and lamb kofta, a sumac-onion mix on top, a side of toum, with za’atar flatbread to accompany. Chef de cuisine Kaili Hill leads the charge on both breadmaking and the pastry program, which features a burnt Basque cheesecake with burnt honey and carrot marmalade, as well as a decadent chocolate cake for two that’s zhuzhed up with baharat spice, pistachios, rose petal, and cream cheese ice cream on the side. And already, Vikram Bhambri promises there’s still more to come. “This is the first take on the menu,” he says. “As things progress, we’ll definitely do specials where we do menu changes, because right now we’ve only touched the northern regions, and we’ll touch on the African side of the [Mediterranean].”
The cocktail program holds its own against the food, incorporating Spain, Moroccan, Italian, and French influences — including liquors such as mahia, Morocco’s national spirit distilled from figs — alongside local farmers market ingredients. Katya Skye of Dacha Kitchen and Bar consulted on the drinks, using techniques such as sous vide, reductions, infusions, and clarification to reach the final menu, which will shift with the seasons. The Parole Che Durano, for instance, is a clarified cocktail made with mezcal, Luxardo Maraschino, and Brucato Chaparral Amaro. The Alora Spritz seems poised for Instagram greatness with its beautiful colors, and Skye promises a complex version made with Cappelletti, Amaro Nonino, a tangerine-apricot reduction, lemon, bitters, and prosecco. There will also be an extensive wine list to pair with the food, featuring wines made in the region and California.
As with other restaurants under the Bhambris, diners can expect upscale design elements throughout the 2,500-square-foot main dining space. Anu Bhambri’s enthusiasm for restaurant design served as a starting point for working with Manu Studio, a frequent collaborator with the restaurateur couple, bringing different textures and materials to the space. Lighting fixtures mimic floating jellyfish, while large, hanging metal installations are meant to evoke ripples in the water. An outdoor patio space allows guests a view of the water on the pier as they dine, with a covering meant to welcome — or keep out — the weather, depending on the forecast.
Alora has a few meanings in different countries, but the Bhambris felt most connected to its Latin definition as “beautiful dreamer” — fitting for this duo as they continue to expand their restaurant empire. “When we were looking for names, we were like, ‘What brings in that energy and passion that we have?’” Anu Bhambri says. “So that’s how we came to Alora.”
Alora (The Embarcadero Pier 3, Suite 108, San Francisco) debuts Thursday, January 25. The restaurant is open 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Lunch hours will launch in the coming weeks.