Alaro Craft Brewery
Sacramento, CA 95811
My cousin and I would zip through the sleepy tree-canopied streets of Midtown in the 1990s on her Schwinn Stingray. We’d buy candy cigarettes and Clearly Canadians at Fremont Market and gobble them down on the steps of Fremont Adult School. The neighbors had a collection of super bouncing balls, and a dude across the way frequently wore a De La Soul T-shirt and had a pet boa constrictor.
If there’s anything that would drag me to Midtown these days, it would be a demure, tall, Ecuadorian man who is an American River College culinary program alumnus, like me.
David Santana is Alaro Craft Brewery’s new head chef. He has spent the majority of his cooking career, seven years, in between OneSpeed and The Waterboy. When Rubicon Brewing Company, one of Sacramento’s oldest names in beer, shut down in 2017, Alaro moved into the space to cater to hop-thirsty patrons, with Chris Keeton as the head brewer.
The dark wood tables, cobalt glasses and beautiful decorative plates make the large space feel intimate. The Spanish-inspired menu is expansive, offering tapas and bites—I’m not sure what the difference is between the two—large plates and a soft serve bar. The Papas Bravas ($8) are a staple of most tapas menus, a reliable (if not entirely unexciting) plate of chunky potato pieces covered in spicy tomato sauce and fancy mayonnaise. The Elotes ($8) come with the corn kernels removed from the cob, mixed with green chile butter and finished with a whopping dollop of basil mayo. (Why aren’t we putting basil mayo on everything?) Gambas al Ajillo ($15) appear as supple pink spot prawns with their heads still attached—the way to eat all prawns, their antennae cascading outside of their serving vessel, spiked with a splash of vinegar.
Just when I ached to see something from Santana’s cultural heritage, I spied the daily special, Croquetas ($8). True, croquettes appear on many menus, but his experience with the dish showed. These panko-breaded fritters were crispy little nuggets of bechamel and bits of ham. And honestly, who doesn’t like deep-fried gravy?
The Pan Roasted Half Chicken ($21) didn’t seem like it would be worth the price. Yet the skin is crispy from its contact with the pan and the meat retains all its juiciness. It’s plated with a summer fresh salad of chiffonade kale, corn kernels and black-eyed peas. No doubt the produce was sourced from a few miles away. It’s a satisfying dish. The Seafood Paella (market price) was a delicious surprise. Jam-packed full of fresh mussels, clams and those same soft-spot prawns, it’s served in its cooking pan. You get the pleasure of digging to the bottom and scraping off all those crispy burnt bits of seasoned bomba rice. To my delight, it was served still sizzling.
My only criticism is that most of the food could benefit from a sprinkling of finishing salt. The technicality of food preparation shows that Santana is more than capable of holding down his own, but the lack of salt shows a bit of reservation. However, Alaro is a restaurant that will bring me back to Midtown more often.