Dining in Italy: Don Alfonso 1890** (2022)

We really enjoyed our first dinner at Don Alfonso 1890 in 2018, so it was the perfect restaurant to start off this year’s culinary adventures in Italy.

This is a family business, run by two brothers and their mother. Apart from a restaurant it is also a boutique hotel.

The decor is not exactly to our taste, but we know from our previous visit that the food and wine certainly are. We opted for la Degustazione, 7 courses for 190 euros, and the wine pairing, 5 glasses for 220 euros.

Don Alfonso has a marvelous wine cellar, and they have the great policy that they spend the lion’s share of the budget on one fantastic wine. This allows the guests to enjoy something really special, while keeping the total cost (somewhat) reasonable.

The amuse bouche were wonderful. My favorites were the oyster tempura and the truffle.

The first course of the menu was buffalo mozzarella soufflé and mozzarella ice cream with tomato coulis and crispy basil. A classic combination of ingredients from this region, served with a contrast between hot and cold. It was paired nicely with a Viognier from Lazio.

Next was the only dish that was almost the same as a dish 4 years ago: duck breast with balsamic reduction, apple sauce, and cinnamon. Just like 4 years ago it was paired with cherry-infused Aglianico on the rocks. This time around the duck was tender. The cherry-infused wine has a strong flavor so that it becomes more the main part of the dish rather than an accompaniment.

The third course was really nice: ravioli made from cuttlefish, stuffed with fish, and served with squash puree and a carrot and ginger broth. When we chatted with the chef after dinner, he explained that the cuttlefish pasta was made by puttint cuttlefish in a blender with egg whites and ice, which was then cooked as sheets on silicone in the oven. This was paired nicely with a blend of Chenin and Chardonnay from Piemonte.

Next were cappelli (a type of ravioli) of regular fresh pasta, stuffed with chicken, and served with onion, parmigiano, and a generous serving of black truffle. This was paired nicely with a Semillon from Chile that was made somewhat like an orange wine, but not in an oxidative style (so it was very nice). The pasta with truffle was just wonderful.

The next dish was paired with the same wine, and this pairing was superb. It really brought out the wine. The dish was grouper, cooked sous vide with lemon zest and vanilla, served with mashed potatoes with a bit of chives, a sabayon of colatura di alici (anchovy brine, a speciality from the nearby Amalfi coast), onion ashes, and fried basil. I thought the grouper was slightly dry and the chef later revealed that it had been cooked sous vide at 55C/131F. I suggested he try it at 50C/122F, but he said serving fish medium rare like that would freak out some of the guests.

As I mentioned in the introduction, the wine pairing includes one ‘big wine’. It was a 1988 Château Haut Brion Grand Cru Classé from Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France). This wine had aged very well with velvety tannins, but still had a vibrant color and its freshness. If a restaurant has such a great wine cellar, it is really nice to actually enjoy some of its treasure.

The wine was accompanied by the meat secondo: braised blade steak, marinated with oriental spices and served with a squash velouté, orange mostarda, wasabi, and borage powder. The meat was very tender and by itself a nice pairing with the wine. The mostarda, squash, and wasabi were nice with the beef, but not helping to bring out the best of the wine.

The palate cleanser was a raspberry sorbet.

For dessert you could pick any dessert from the menu. I opted for a creation of carub, chocolate, and hazelnuts, that was very nice and paired nicely with a recioto di Valpolicella.

The friandises were also very nice.

The meal ended with a tour of the famous wine cellar. The deepest part is thousands of years old.

This was another great meal at Don Alfonso. The food, wine, and service were all simply wonderful. The chef combines local ingredients with modern techniques to come up with dishes that are still firmly rooted in Italian culinary tradition. All the wines and wine pairings are good, with one fantastic pairing and one fantastic wine among them. The service is very friendly and not at all formal. It is clear that the Iaccarino family understands hospitality. I am already looking forward to our next visit.


6 thoughts on “Dining in Italy: Don Alfonso 1890** (2022)

  1. I always look forward to your restaurant experiences, thank you so much for sharing. I discovered that there is a Don Alfonso in Toronto, the logo looks the same and the description indicates that it is the first North American location. It seems to be at the top of the Westin Hotel in the harbour, which used to be a revolving restaurant (unfortunately, it no longer revolves). To be honest, our restaurant adventures have been incredibly disappointing in Toronto, post-covid. Quality has plummeted and prices have risen (40% in some cases). It would be difficult to spend that kind of money knowing that here, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do so in Europe. Businesses in Europe haven’t seen post-Covid as an opportunity to gouge the patrons, as they have done in Toronto.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do remember you two so enjoying this restaurant way back. Lovely to share your visit again, Unlike you I rather like the classic European formality and ambience of the place but being used to Australian manners and mores find the costs very high in spite of understanding how many different facets have to be taken into account. Comparing issues – here this would still command a suit and tie for men, even at lunchtime . . . interesting to note . . . glad you enjoyed and looking forwards to the next experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

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