Partners in wine

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Couple goals: As the Co-owner of Woodlake Tavern, Uptown Pizza Kitchen and the newly opened Allora (5215 Folsom Boulevard), chef Deneb Williams said he doesn’t “like taking second fiddle to anyone.” But for his newest East Sacramento restaurant, he makes an exception for his wife and business partner, Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, the first woman in Sacramento who is a certified advanced sommelier.

“We knew we wanted a wine-driven restaurant that focused on Italian wine,” Williams said. “And just traveling abroad, she and I have been dreaming for years of this concept.”

Within Allora, there’s a 22-foot tall cellar with more than 200 wines made from Italian grape varietals. Williams said the wine list inspires his seafood-centric cuisine that he began developing at the age of 12, when he would walk down to the docks in upstate Washington to survey the fresh catches of the day. After landing at The Firehouse Restaurant (1112 Second Street), he realized that regardless of which fish he chose as a nightly special, it’d always be the second-best seller behind filet mignon.

“What I noticed about Sacramento is there’s a lot of great sushi and there’s not a lot of great seafood,” he said. “And that was proof to me that Sacramento was ready for a seafood restaurant.”

Williams said Allora will commonly stock tuna and octopus. Otherwise, his seafood offerings will rotate at least monthly to ensure he’s serving the right fish at the right time.

Similar to Canon East Sacramento and Hawks Public House, Allora aims to deliver top-quality food without the fine dining fuss that Williams feels is a turn-off for laid-back yet discerning Sacramento diners.

Coming up, Williams said Allora will start offering Sunday Brunch as well as weekly five-course prix fixe menus with complementary wine pairings. He envisions a versatile space where couples can go out for oysters on a whim or drop big bucks on an anniversary. For Williams and Mandalou, it’s a concept that maximizes their talents in a way that, they feel, completes their neighborhood.

“My wife and I live in East Sac,” Williams said. “This is the kind of restaurant that we wanted to be in our neighborhood because this is where we would want to go.”

Richmond import: Originally from the East Bay, Gran Milan (1801 L Street)—an Italian cafe serving pastries, paninis and pizza—has come to Midtown. The shop imports espresso beans from Italy and serves a variety of focaccia ($6.50) topped with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and rosemary or eggplant parmesan.

Suburban shawarma: Out in Arden-Arcade, Baghdad Nights (3419 El Camino Avenue) has opened, serving Halal, Middle-Eastern food like baba ghannouj ($3.49), beef shawarma sandwiches ($6.99) and ouzi lamb shanks ($12.49).