Tuesday, 16 January 2018

DINNER AT DON ALFONSO 1890

On our last night in Sorrento, we went to a fabulous restaurant called Don Alfonso 1890.

If you haven't read my previous posts or just want an update, here is the recoup of what we have been up to since we landed in Naples 5 days ago:
A day trip around Sorrento and along Amalfi Coast
A trip to a ghostly ruins of Pompeii and
A boat trip to the island of Capri and a Blue Grotto

We made a reservation to this stunning restaurant months before our actual holiday started, based on  what we read about Don Alfonso 1890 via our Internet search for best places to eat when in Amalfi Coast.  We both agreed that we should go somewhere special on our last night in Sorrento to say "goodbye" to Italy and to toast our next adventure, as the next morning we were flying to Cuba.  And this restaurant fitted the bill perfectly.
Although the discovery of new places is an exciting part of holiday experiences, there are some things that need to be done in advance, like an hotel where you are going to stay or a restaurant that you are hoping to eat in is booked months in advance and the only way to get in is to do the same.  Besides, if the worst comes to the worst, you can always cancel the booking.  This scenario has always worked for us.

The history behind Don Alfonso 1890 is quite remarkable.  As the name suggests, it was founded in 1890  by the current owner's great grandfather and his partner as a restaurant-hotel and has remained a family business ever since.  Holder of 2 Michelin stars, its cooking philosophy "reflects the philosophy that  is innovative while respecting the local food culture and the millennial traditions of the Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast".  These days it is run by Alfonso Iaccarino, Don Alfonso's grandson and his lovely wife Livia and their children, Mario and Ernesto.
DON ALFONSO 1890
As our taxi drew up to the front door, we were greeted by one of the members of the staff and escorted inside where we were greeted by the immaculately dressed Mario who walked us through the main room into a smaller, more intimate room so we could have the best of both worlds - our privacy (following our request which we made when making our reservation) while being able to observe the bustling activities of the main room without being noticed.
DON ALFONSO 1890
As we sat down and ordered our drinks, I had a chance to check the surroundings.  Our room looked absolutely beautiful.
DON ALFONSO 1890
It was filled with bright colours of pink, yellow, orange and lilac which work harmoniously with the bright natural Mediterranean light creating a unique vibe, characteristic to the Southern Italy.  
DON ALFONSO 1890
Not a single detail was overlooked, even the pattern on the gorgeous charge plates in front of us was replicated in the colour palette of the upholstery which was chosen for the chases and chairs.
DON ALFONSO 1890
A tall, heavily framed antique mirror was propped on a marble table and adorned with a simple but elegant bouquet of flowers and an antique candelabra.  It reminded me of the salon where aristocrats would gather for afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches.
DINNER AT DON ALFONSO 1890

We opted for the La Degustazione  (degustation) menu so we would be able to sample as many dishes as possible but first we were treated to a a couple of delectable Amuse Bouche, courtesy and a specialty of the house:
Chips of curcuma (turmeric) and rosemary  with crispy eggplant Iaccarino style 

The chips were placed in a small porcelain vase and the eggplant was served on an organic shape marble tablet.  The second Amuse Bouche was
Parmesan flavoured zucchini with fresh mint and a sauce of  basil and mozzarella

 Both of these dishes were a perfect accompaniment to our pre-dinner champagne drinks.

Before I proceed with the main dishes that were served to us that evening, I would like to express my gratitude to Fortunato Maresca, the Assistant Manager of Don Alfonso 1890 who, since I'd lost a copy of the menu, not only kindly e-mailed me an English version of it but also helped me to identify the dishes from the pictures that I'd taken.  Grazie Mille or thank you so much.

Few minutes later the first dish on the menu was placed in front of us
Eel ice-cream, Oscietra caviar pasta scented with rose and a mince of wild herbs
First created in 2012
Followed by
Duck breast, Annurca apple preserve, reduction of balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and barage powder
Reviewed in 2015
For the duck dish, the sommelier brought to our table two wine glasses filled with ice-cubes and poured over cherry wine (another compliment of the house).  We had never tasted wine made out of cherries and I must say it was sublime.

The next dish was 
Spaghetti with mackerel, Carpione style, with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and candied onions, on a sauce of  turnips and Alalanga tuna
Creation 2013
Followed by
Cappelli filled with veal Genoese style, Grana Padana veloute, dried vegetables and black truffles
Created 2017
After that, we were served 
Breaded and fried codfish, served with the bone, sweet and sour of lemon and buffalo yogurt
Creation 2014
Our last savoury dish was 
Guinea-fowl stuffed with Bronte pistachios, a sauce of  sweet pepper of Senise in two different styles:aciduous and spicy; potato puree flavoured with saffron and wild fennel chips
Creation 2016
As you can see from the images, each dish was served on a the purposely designed plate and looked like a work of art.  It is so true that you eat with your eyes first and let me tell you that there was not one course that we didn't like or was just ok.  They all not only looked great but tasted superb.

During the course of the dinner we met the lady of the house, Signora Livia.  Immaculately dressed in true Italian style, she went from table to table to introduce herself and have a nice chat with each individual guest which made us all feel special.

Once all the savoury dishes had been served, the waiter brought us a palate cleanser.  The term was coined by French and was designed to remove any lingering flavours from the mouth so the next course may be enjoyed with fresh perspective.  Sorbet is for sure the most frequent palate cleanser and one most adopted worldwide.  Ours was lemon-citron sorbet brought from the owner's farm served in a unusually shaped bowl together with a plate full of Petit Fours 
Lemon-citron sorbet
which in turn was placed on a small glass bowl filled with some blue colour chemical mixture that upon reaction with dried ice produced a thick fog which enveloped the Petit Fours as if hiding them from us.
But that was just the beginning.  The next dessert that appeared on out table looked equally delicious
Neapolitan Sfogliatella pastry perfumed with cinnamon
Historical recipe
And Impressionistic view of  the Espresso
Historical recipe
And when we thought that our dinner had come to an end, in the final crescendo the last dessert (also based on a historical recipe) magically appeared in front of us.  It was called 
A concert of lemon, fragrance and flavours
and was dedicated to the lemons indigenous to Sorrento and Amalfi Coast.  Although we were feeling quite full, needless to say that we thoroughly enjoyed the dessert, especially me since I have such a sweet tooth.
My story about this amazing place will not be completed, if I don't tell you about my trip to the bathroom.  As I crossed the main area following the directions of the waiter, I came to a delightful room, the walls of which were painted in bright pink and adorned with the lovely artwork featuring lemons and an intricately inlaid mirror.
An antique credenza was placed against the wall right behind me and was decorated with small porcelain figurines and various awards earned by the restaurant over the years and
 an absolutely stunning, very old, marble bust of a young woman.
As I entered the bathroom, I was greeted by the kaleidoscope of pink, burgundy, fuchsia and yellow colours that was the extension of the colour palette used in the dining room, projected on the tiles, flowers and small bathroom accessories.  Even hand towels were not overlooked.


Under normal circumstances, our evening at any given restaurant would be nearing an end but that was not what Signora Livia had in mind for us.  As we were waiting for the bill, she again approached out table to offer us a visit to their wine cellar and the ageing room for cheeses. We felt very honoured and happily agreed.
She then called one of her staff members, a young woman, who escorted us first to the cellar which contained over 25 thousand magnificent bottles from all over the world and then pointed towards the ageing room where the cheese have been kept. 
My husband opted to stay in the cellar to admire their extensive collection while I agreed to see the cheeses.  Only when I said yes, she told me that in order to do that, I have to take more then 100 steep stoned steps downstairs.  Giving the fact that I was wearing high heels, it was not an ideal scenario but at this point it was too late to back out on the offer and so off I went.
I must say that it was one of the strangest things I've done in my life; when I finally got down, I was first met by the very distinctive cheese smell, then I saw them hanging off the hooks.  Some of them looked quite bizarre and I believe were made from ancient recipes and are very highly prized among cheese connoisseurs.

Luckily for me, the alcohol that I consumed during the dinner went right into my adrenaline stream which helped me to climb all those stairs up, in high heels, mind you.

When I finally came upstairs and we left the cellar, Signora Livia and her son Mario were outside waiting for us.  She first took us to the kitchen where we met her other son, Ernesto and then to show us their cooking school.

As a parting gesture, with true Italian hospitality, she gave us a packet of their home made pappardelle pasta which we cooked as soon as we arrived back to Australia.
It was such a perfect evening that was not just about the food but rather a unique and unforgettable experience that we both will treasure in our memories.  It was a high-note and a fitting  farewell to our wonderful time in this beautiful part of the world.

And now the time has come to cross the Atlantic and head for Cuba

Until then

Anna
xo



Saturday, 30 December 2017

A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO

On our last day in Sorrento we took a public ferry to visit the beautiful island of Capri.  Again, there were many private options on offer and one needs to spend some time to comb through all of them and select the most suitable.  It is far more expensive, of course than using public transport but each has its own benefits.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
"FIRST THING WE WANTED TO DO IN CAPRI 
IS TO  SEE THE BLUE GROTTO"
 A VIEW OVER AN ISLAND OF CAPRI FROM AFAR

Capri's little harbour
Anyway, the ferry was big and was able to collect everyone from the pier and quite comfortable.  We got a window seat and were able to enjoy the view all the way to Capri, the trip lasted around forty 
minutes.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
Our highest priority was to see the Blue Grotto so once we had disembarked from the ferry, we went straight to another pier where got on a board a privately operated boat which along with many others was ferrying people to and from the Grotto itself.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO

 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
If you never heard or seen the Blue Grotto (Grotto Azzurro in Italian) it is a sea cave on the island of Capri and is famous for the unique blue colour of the water which owes its colour to the rays of sun passing through an underwater cavity and in turn, shines through the sea water.  If the sea is rough and the winds are strong, it is impossible to get past the low entrance into the cave.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
Even on a calm day it is open only for a few hours hence there is always a small flotilla of boats bobbing around the entrance waiting for their turn to send their passengers into the Grotto.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
Unfortunately, nobody explained to me before hand that in order to get into the cave, you have to step over the side of the boat that you are on into a tiny dinghy that can hold no more then four people at a time and we all had to sit on the floor of the dinghy or our heads would be smashed by the rock hanging over the mouth of the cave.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
While we were patiently waiting for our turn, I was watching how people from other boats were getting into the dinghies and to my total horror I realised that while every woman was wearing some sort of pants, I was dressed in a short white skirt which was obviously the wrong choice under the circumstances.  Luckily for me, our captain was a true gentleman and helped to get down into the dingy without me losing my dignity.  To get down on the bottom of the dingy was another challenge but I had no choice so I just did what the boat man told me to do.  I must say it was quite fun too.  
INSIDE THE BLUE GROTTO
After a few strokes of the oars, we neared the mouth of the cave and he shouted to us to tuck our heads low until his next order.  When it was safe to look up, we and few other dinghies were inside the Grotto and the water around us was so blue that I suspected that there some trick behind it.
INSIDE THE BLUE GROTTO

INSIDE THE BLUE GROTTO
A couple of people slipped over board for a quick swim while the rowers started singing O Sole Mio on the top of their voices.  After a short ride around the grotto, we left the cave in the same manner and returned to our boat.
INSIDE THE BLUE GROTTO
As our boat was the last to see the Grotto that day, so we towed a dingy that had taken us inside the Grotto, all the way back to the marina.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
We didn't have much time left to wander around the island knowing that the last ferry was leaving Capri quite soon and we wanted to get to the top of the island to Anacapri, the highest elevation of the island which provides a sweeping view over the island and the Bay of Naples with  Mount Vesuvius beckoning in the distance.
A VIEW OVER CAPRI FROM ANACAPRI

ON ANACAPRI
We hurried to the nearest bus stop where we saw a long queue of people who obviously wanted to do the same thing.  We had no choice but to join them and wait patiently for the bus to arrive when, out of the blue, a couple approached us and suggested that we share the cost of a cab that was parked nearby.  We agreed without hesitation and jumped in.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
The cab was  a Fiat convertible that gave us a great option to have 360 degree view of the area as the car sped up the mountain.  As with the our previous driver who took us along the Amalfi Coast, this one was highly skillful taking the hairpin bends without slowing down much to both our horror and delight. 
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
The view from Anacapri was absolutely breathtaking, we felt we were on top of the world.  On the way back the queue to get on a bus that would take us down to the port was so long that in order not to miss the boat, pun not intended, we approached some random people sitting in an another convertible cab and asked them whether they wouldn't mind if we jumped in and shared the ride.  They happily agreed and so we did.  After another crazy ride, we found ourselves on the pier just in time to board the ferry to return to Sorrento.
 A TRIP TO ISLAND OF CAPRI AND THE BLUE GROTTO
It is become customary of me to share with you a recipe from MY COSMOPOLITAN KITCHEN cook book and on today's menu is fresh, crisp and super healthy Salad of Oranges, Fennel and Rocket Leaves that is served all over the Med.  My vegan daughter swears by it.

Enjoy!!!

Until then