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Don Alfonso, when you can be “excellence” with just two stars…

By 13/07/2018May 19th, 2020No Comments

I have always considered myself a stateless person.

I belong to no place and no place belongs to me.

After all, I do not answer to everyone like this, when someone asks me the fateful question: “Where are you from?”

And this, on the one hand, may seem infinitely sad, on the other hand, I like it. Almost facilitates me. It facilitates me in many things.

Because, let’s face it, it is almost impossible to choose the right direction if you do not know exactly where you started from. But it is also true that feeling “citizens of the world” means never suffering from nostalgia. Find yourself more or less well in every place on earth. All you need to do is understand what characteristics of the nations or cities you visit, come closer to our way of being and that’s it. And for someone like me, who lives continuously with the suitcase in the hand, this is a huge advantage.

Everything nice. Quite right. Shareable. Also amiable, if you think that I often declare myself “stateless” smiling and pushing my glasses on my nose. Which, as Battiato says, serves to “have more charisma and symptomatic mystery”.

But sometimes you have to deal with your past. Your origins. Your own land.

Even if you do not want to do it. Even if you try to force this thought away. Even if we should do something else.

It is our skin to suggest it, our blood to demand it, our soul to shout it.

Here, because sometimes I just need to go “home”. It was just to drink a coffee, an espresso at the bar, and listen to my shoulders superficial speeches on politics or football.

Today is one of those days. One of those where I don’t want to hear any reason. One of those in which I want my ears to fill with familiar sounds.

The Neapolitan sing-song. The sound of sea waves.

I am in Italy. In Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi. We speak of the largest fraction of Massa Lubrense, a municipality in the metropolitan city of Naples. Located in the Sorrento peninsula, it takes its name from the extraordinary position in which it is located: the gulfs of Naples and Salerno.

Here, in a place as wonderful as it is magical, stands Don Alfonso: an excellence of Italian food and wine. A two-starred, the historic restaurant of the Iaccarino’s family lost the Third Star a few years ago. Without ever being able to regain it. We don’t whether it depended on their will or the choice of the inspectors. The fact is that often, given the marked difference between the two and the three-starred, taking a step back, in life as in the restaurant, can ensure greater serenity and therefore a higher quality in what you do. In this case the dishes served.

Don Alfonso is housed in a nineteenth-century Neapolitan palace. Although the sea is very close, it is impossible to admire it from inside the building. Which, however, is equipped with a beautiful outdoor area, of eight suites where you can stay and relax, and an amazing swimming pool as well. Don Alfonso, then, also uses nine hectares of cultivation, in Punta Campanella, a part of Sant’Agata that goes down to the sea. There, they cultivate, clearly farm-to-table, tomatoes, vegetables and many other delicious products, which the restaurant staff uses in the preparation of dishes. They also give these products to the guests when they leave the restaurant after eating.

Don Alfonso was born in 1973, from an intuition of Alfonso Iaccarino, who decided to transform the pension founded by his grandfather in 1890, into a restaurant.

The only three Michelin stars in the South of Italy from 1997 to 2001, this restaurant lives off the creative inspiration of Ernesto, chef and absolute master of his kitchen and son of Alfonso and Livia, one of this place’s secrets. In fact, her greeting really makes the difference: constantly enhancing the quality of the raw materials of the dishes and her son’s great passion in the kitchen, the woman never stops to go around. She tells us about the menus, convincing us to choose the Tasting. With the addition, offered by the chef, of one of the historical dishes of Don Alfonso: the strascinati of grandfather Ernesto. We’ll talk about it later.

After choosing my “culinary path”, I focus on wines, a white and a red, as usual. The first one is a Mel of the Antonio Caggiano Cellars, with a golden yellow color to the eye, while the taste is sweet with a persistent finish of honey, dried apricot and candied citrus. The second, however, the Elixir di Bacco dei Viticoltori Polito, while remaining in very sweet tones, is served during the meal and not, as might be hypothesized, to accompany desserts. Ruby red color, on the palate gives hints of black cherries and almonds.

After admiring the hall, consisting of about fifteen tables ready to host a maximum of fifty guests, and the marvelous mise en place, made of white tablecloths, an amazing cutlery and antique pink curtains that show great elegance, I focus on the amuse bouche. Vegetables from the organic garden, cooked and raw, with horseradish ice cream, beetroot crisp and Punta Campanella honey vinaigrette. It is a beautiful stone dish with four tastes on it: eel ice cream, Oscietra caviar, rosehip pasta and wild herbs.

Then we continue with the duck breast, composed of Annurca apple, reduction of balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and borage powder; the nudes of ricotta in consommé with hints of Vervain odorous, lemon peels and nettles; and spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili with soused mackerel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, caramelized onion on Alalunga tuna sauce.

We continue with the golden and fried cod, served with whole bone, citrus coulis and buffalo yoghurt and the Benevento beef fillet in bread crust, mozzarella, jowl with green cream and spicy tomato.

It is the moment of the strascinati of grandfather Ernesto: the dish with which the Iaccarino family decides to pay homage to me. To cuddle me but also to share their story. Let’s talk about a kind of cannelloni “made in reverse”: covered with a light sauce, mozzarella and basil. Yummy.

We close with the small pastry: sweeties, almost entirely chocolate, and really scenic.

The final considerations.

If you find yourself around Naples, you have to go at Don Alfonso. It’s really worth it. For the greetings, the attention and the quality of the dishes. In fact, it would just be enough to concentrate on the mise en place or cutlery to understand that it is a former three-star Michelin’s. The coordinates are exactly those.

In addition to this, there is a wonderful wine cellar, dating back to the early nineteenth century, which, along the various tunnels in tuff, filled, on one side and the other, with bottles, leads to a well. A water reserve since 1800, today it is used by the Iaccarino family to season cheeses. As evidence of how, at Don Alfonso, nothing is left to chance.

Final vote three beards and a half.

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