Still Dreaming of Don Alfonso 1890 and One of the Best Things I Ever Ate
Warning: Dining at Don Alfonso 1890 may result in day dreams, loss of sleep, food fixations, increased appetite, and the sudden urge to book tickets and return to Sorrento.
If you follow Travlinmad regularly, you know how much we love to eat. Trying new and local foods around the world is our favorite thing to do, anytime…anywhere. For us, it’s not necessarily about the restaurant per se…the focus is generally on the food itself and the Chef who created it. What’s their story? How did that story lead them to create this dish, using the ingredients they did, and what are they trying to say by sharing it? We say it over and over — if you want to get to know a place, try the local food. It’s as good an introduction to a local culture as anything.
From a practical standpoint, staying focused on the food itself also helps us create content that’s evergreen, and not going to be outdated in short order when a place goes out of business. Many restaurants have a way of doing that. So we tell the stories of the food and its creator.
But it’s the rare restaurant who stands the test of time, surviving difficult economic times and food fashions of the day. If they do survive the ever-changing trends, it’s because their concept is exciting and fresh, reflecting their continued passion for their craft. If they survive competition, they are the creme that rises to the top. They become a restaurant with that something special — the reputation that follows innovation, creativity, and passion, not just to succeed but to create amazing food.
Ristorante Don Alfonso is one such restaurant. I had the good fortune of dining at this 2-star Michelin restaurant, easily one of the best restaurants in Sorrento and the small town of Sant’Agata sui due Golfi. If you haven’t been to Sorrento in southern Italy, you really should go. Many Italians call it the real Italy, or maybe that’s just my relatives who say that since that’s where our families came from. Sorrento occupies an enviable position in the middle of the action, standing watch like the historic Saracen towers that once guarded against invaders and still dot the rocky coastline. At the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula within view of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius to the north, the island of Capri to the west, and the beautiful Amalfi Coast stretching south, Sorrento is the unofficial beginning of the string of Amalfi Coast towns winding through Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, Atrani, Maiori, Cetara, Vietri sul Mare, and finally Salerno. This entire region in Campania is one of the most scenic and visited areas in all of Italy.
I had joined a 7 day tour to the Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast with Valise Travel Concierge, a tour and travel planning company that organizes immersive small group tours to exciting places around the world. To give you an idea how small it was, the entirety of our party shared a small round table for 5 at Don Alfonso, with the best view of the open kitchen and the buzz of activity inside. Our visit began with a private tour of their wine cellar, a real treat and an exclusive part of the tour with Valise. The cellar here is set within a pre-Roman burial tunnel 25 meters below the earth which stores over 25,000 precious bottles and an aging chamber dedicated to their homemade cheese. We were there on a chilly evening in April for their grand re-opening for the season, and were having their Traditional Tasting Menu. While it wasn’t without a few hiccups, overall — and the reason I feel compelled to write this — is that our experience included some creative uses of regional Italian foods, and several of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
Read on my friends…it only gets better.
The Philosophy at Don Alfonso
Ordinarily I would have assumed the team of people who orchestrated our meal was assembled because it was Opening Night, but halfway through dinner it struck me that it must always be like this. From the front end of the house to the kitchen, squadrons of employees descended on our table to deliver, retrieve, scrape, refill, remove, and respond — so expertly we barely noticed at all. Until we turned to look in the kitchen, where the same dance played out with precision. Orders rolled in, meetings were held, strategy executed… and the courses set before us were a sight to behold. In my photographer’s mind, I only wish I could have time-lapsed the entire opera at once, a hidden camera in every corner to capture every single employee’s individual part.
Having seen it with my own eyes, this quote by the Italian actor and playwright Eduardo de Filippo on the Don Alfonso website sums up their philosophy quite well:
Complimentary from the Chef, these delectable Amuse Bouche were our first tastes…
The selection of amuse bouche was a well-presented array of flavors and textures and set the bar high for what was to come, especially the whisper-thin crackers with flavorful creams and fillings. And the fried baby carciofi (artichoke) was perfectly crispy and tender at once.
Traditional Tasting Menu
Deep fried Lobster sweet and sour, Acidula of citrus fruit
The presentation was very nice, but I’m not a fan of ever deep-frying lobster which is easily overcooked. Sound concept but mine were tough.
The Rediscovery of the Baked Egg with Burrata, Black Truffle, and Asparagus tips
I couldn’t stop eating this. A strong redemption after the lobster — the egg was done to perfection and the combination was brilliant. Honestly one of the best things I have ever eaten!
Grandfather Ernesto Strascinati’s Traditional Cannelloni Pasta rolls revisited, on a light Tomato ragout, Basil and Mozzarella (historical recipe)
I appreciate an historical recipe passed down from generations, and this course was tasty. Nice to find the cannelloni filling so smooth in texture, and not overpowered by a heavier tomato sauce.
Tenderloin from Benevento in bread crust and pork cheek with a green cream and chili tomato sauce
A beautiful presentation of perfectly cooked tenderloin with just the right balance of sweet and savory sauces to complement the beef (the green was made from parsley and other fresh herbs).
Selection of Cheeses
This entire presentation was a feast of flavors and textures. Not at all a heavy course, the flavors of the cheese were highlighted against the delicate crunch of almonds, rice cups, and crispy crackers.
Even the palate cleanser was impressive — lemon granita on a bed of chopped pistachios with a lace of sugared pistachio brittle, served in the well of a frozen marble dish.
Desserts and Petits fours
A variety of uniquely sweet petits fours with complex tastes and textures presented over a sea of smoldering dry ice.
The Mediterranean — Orange, pistachio from Bronte, buffalo ricotta, and Amarelli liquorice
Lovely presentation aside, this dessert stumped everyone in our group with its unusual flavor profile. To an American palate, the Amarelli liquorice tasted more like straight black strap molasses and the olive cream appeared to clash for us as well.
A Concert of lemon, fragrance, and flavours (historical recipe)
A delicious and refreshing finish and beautiful presentation, the lemon cream inside was thin but full of flavor.
Neapolitan Sfogliatella pastry, perfumed with cinnamon (historical recipe)
A perfect way to end the meal at Don Alfonso, I was excited to try their interpretation of my favorite Italian pastry. Honestly — and sadly for me as I may be forever ruined — it blew other versions I’ve had out of the water with the light consistency and hint of cinnamon.
Move Don Alfonso 1890 high on your list of the best restaurants in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The accolades, stars, and recommendations are well deserved. But perhaps what I love most is their food philosophy. Many of the ingredients served at Don Alfonso including their extra virgin olive oil, most of the vegetables and their famous lemon liqueur are grown and produced at their organic farm Le Peracciole in nearby Termini. Their mission and dedication to locally-grown and sourced ingredients isn’t just a statement hung on their walls… it’s just the simple philosophy handed down through the generations that’s practiced daily in their kitchen:
If You Go
Don Alfonso Restaurant and Relais and Chateaux Hotel is owned by the Iaccarino family, and are open annually from early April to early November, and closed Monday and Tuesday. Sign up for their cooking classes if you’re feeling inspired after your meal.
Corso Sant'Agata, 11/13 — 80061 Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi, Naples
The Don Alfonso 1890 is:
8 km from Sorrento
12 km from Positano
30 km from Pompeii
35 km from Amalfi
60 km from Naples
Many thanks to Valise Travel Concierge for introducing us to this amazing restaurant!