La Dolce Vita at Allora at Pearl
Coastal Italian with a Breezy Amalfi Ambiance
By Janis Turk
When I think of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, tiny villages like Positano and Amalfi perched high upon rugged hills, clinging to the cliffs with colorful buildings like dangling boughs of bougainvillea hanging impossibly just above the sea, my first thought is of lemons. I still see its lemon trees growing on terraced lots astride hillsides, boughs bending with the weight of oversized sunny lemons leaning into the light.
And then, of course, there’s the sea: blue beyond blue – the sparkling waves, ever choppy, always shimmering. I recall weather-worn, wind-tossed boats ferrying tourists from Amalfi to Capri, and tiny, sunbaked dinghies of pink, yellow, and blue, resting on a little beach at the foot of Positano. There I enjoyed a large lemon stuffed with gelato, which I greedily scooped out with a tiny wooden spoon on a warm afternoon.
Such delightful memories stay with me. So even though this year I may not make it to Naples and take the bus along frightfully narrow curved roads to Amalfi before the towns close for the season, here at home, I can go to Allora at Pearl, San Antonio’s newest “coastal Italian” eatery.
I may not see the Mediterranean from here, but I can surely taste it.
Allora “brings the delicate romance of the Italian coastline to San Antonio through colorful dining spaces and fresh summer flavors,” according to its website: an accurate description of Allora’s fine-tuned culinary concept. Their desire is to offer a taste of “la dolce vita” – the sweet life — to South Texas. And I say they’ve succeeded.
The stylish eatery rests in an inviting setting with broad arched-brick outdoor porches adorned with chic black and white awning-striped umbrellas and seating juxtaposed with lemon-colored throw pillows. It’s a lovely place for a fall weekend brunch.
Indoors, towering ceilings, lighted archways, salmon-colored walls, and a classically handsome casual ambiance welcomes diners. Known for fresh-catch seafood and Southern Italy-style house-made pastas, Allora is alluring.
Chef Robbie Nowlin, who made a name for himself in San Antonio restaurants cooking with popular local chefs and restaurateurs including Jason Daddy and Stefan Bowers, and cooking in California at the famed Michelin-starred French Laundry in Napa, has now returned to helm Allora at Pearl. Partnering with Maverick Restaurant Group, the restauranteurs have also opened Allora’s sister restaurant Arrosta at Pearl and The Maverick in Southtown.
An homage to the Amalfi coast, Allora’s waitstaff sport lemon-yellow vests worn over Mediterranean blue shirts. Large fresh lemons rest in rivers of shaved ice in a market-style glass fish case. Watery blue arched window casings, fresh flowers at the hostess station, and light-filled spaces are large and inviting. If it all seems a bit noisy in the early evening, linger awhile over a Sole di Capri spritzer with a generous sprig of fennel, and soon the ambiance softens.
The menu is large, so start with small plates of antipasti, along with a sashimi-grade raw Ahi tuna in a little bowl with capers, citrus juices, and a splash of Italian virgin olive oil. Or share the oversized farro salad with butternut squash, pecans, parsnip, and cranberries. We also ordered a pie-shaped wedge of decadent duck pate on grilled, house-baked, thick sourdough bread. The chicken liver mousse also came highly recommended.
Nowan mastered the art of hand-making pasta at The French Laundry, so I ordered a PRIMI (first course) serving of Tagliatelle alla Bolognese Blanco, made with veal and pork in a delicate blanco sauce with hints of citrus and sweet meats. This was delectable.
For a main course, my husband ordered the Balsamic-glazed roasted half chicken, smothered in caramelized onions. We had to laugh: the entrée was the size of a football. We then groaned, knowing we’d ordered far too much. I’d already been served the grilled rainbow trout splashed in brown butter and beurre blanc sauce — the best thing by far. We were too full to try dessert or the tempting digestifs on the cocktail menu. We didn’t even delve into the fine Italian-inspired wine list, but dinner had been divine.
Of course, there are plentiful fruits of the sea, like olive-brined grilled octopus, striped bass crudo, flounder tartar, mussels in white wine sauce, and a deep-water, fried whole red snapper. The Tomahawk Ribeye, a Veal Chop alla Milanese, or the grilled New York strip will please meat-lovers. Next time, I’ll order the ravioli.
Although Allora is nothing like any Amalfi eatery I’ve known — so large, shiny and new — its imitable essence of Mediterranean coastal cuisine was undeniable.
So whenever a trip to the Amalfi Coast seems just a little out of reach, look for me at Allora.