A Family Evening at Don Alfonso 1890
Dining at Don Alfonso 1890 during one of our Amalfi Coast culinary tours, or staying at their beautiful relais and taking cooking classes in their charming teaching kitchen, are two of our favorite things to do in Italy. I recently had the pleasure of spending an evening with the warm and passionate Iaccarino family as they worked their magic for the patrons – including my family – in their world-renowned, 2 Michelin-star restaurant. Add to that the charm of the town of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, a glorious spot for an authentic cooking vacation in Italy, and it was a most memorable evening!
Taking a seven and nine year old to a Michelin-star restaurant is not something I thought I would ever do. To indulge children with a dinner at Don Alfonso seemed extravagant. But the fact is, dining at a restaurant of this caliber is an experience – and an educational one at that. What did they learn? About the respect for food that is an intrinsic part of Italian cuisine, about the care that can go into preparing, plating, serving each dish. About family and how each generation can bring something to the same endeavor, about farming and flavors, and how to behave in such a refined space. Maybe in the end they learned that they prefer the pizzeria down the street, announcing that Don Alfonso was a bit too “fancy” for them, but they learned by watching me and their father the pleasure adults can take from a four-hour multi-course meal with wine pairing!
A Perfect Dining Experience
The first thing that charmed us was the small fabric-covered stool that the server brought to sit next to my chair – a place to set my purse and my camera (I had to take pictures of every dish!). The service at Don Alfonso is impeccable. Our server offered to make a plain plate of pasta for my kids, but I expected them to pick something off the menu (and they did and loved it thanks to wonderful recommendations by the waiter). It helps that my children in general behave pretty well at restaurants, but I had also spent a couple of months telling them what to expect. (Every dinner leading up to the trip was an opportunity to say, “If you behave like that at table we won’t take you to Don Alfonso when we’re in Italy.”)
My husband eats fish and seafood but not meat, so when he and I ordered the “Tradizione” tasitng menu we asked if they could accommodate him. They did – and even changed his “amuse bouche” and his wine pairings accordingly.
What did we eat? Smoked yellow tail with wild orange flour, broad bean shake and fennel seed with grapefruit mayonnaise; baked egg with burrata cheese and truffle (amazing); Nonno Ernesto’s Strascinati pasta with light tomato ragout, basil and mozzarella (for my husband spaghetti with mackerel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, candied onions, on a sauce of turnips and tuna); Lamb with Mediterranean herb mince (for my husband red mullet with caper powder, lemon scented tiny Gnocchi, red wine reduction and rocket); the most amazing cheese plate (curated by matriarch LIvia, who explained “They don’t let me in the kitchen, so the cheese is all mine”). At one point they brought a sorbet to cleanse our palates – the boys thought it was dessert, and I had the pleasure of explaining that there was something that could be served just to get you ready for dessert! For dessert we had a lovely lemon cream served in a lemon with candied and fried lemon and another featuring stilton and fig. Dinner ended with a lovely assortment of petit fours served over dry ice (very dramatic!).
We finished the evening with a tour of the kitchen, meeting chef Ernesto and his staff, tasting a few more delicacies straight out of the kitchen, and learning more about the care with which they work. Livia showed us into the library and gave us a signed copy of their wonderful cookbook and products from their organic farm, located nearby.
I can’t wait to go back!
By Peg Kern
Read more about our cooking classes at Don Alfonso 1890 in a guest blog post by journalist David Sharos, including Part One, in which he talks about his own culinary beginnings, and Part Two, in which David starts cooking with the chefs of Don Alfonso.
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