I've always loved Don Alfonso, in Sant'Agata sui due Golfi, on the Sorrento peninsula. I've been going for years and have seen many, many changes. And, after a recent romantic weekend with my husband, I think it's better than ever. Don Alfonso is a restaurant, relais, cooking school and more, all with a sense of place, a collaborative effort of the Iaccarino family—chefs Alfonso and son Ernesto in the kitchen; Alfonso's wife, Livia, and son Mario in the dining rooms. The décor reflects the sunny, Mediterranean cuisine, with strong notes of bougainvillea colors—fuchsia, purple, pink, crimson—and hand-painted tiles, some antique, in the restaurant, outdoors on the patios, and even in the kitchen. There's a window in the main dining room for a view of the kitchen and the chefs in action.
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The menu is divided between tradition and innovation, but always reflects the season and area. Vegetables and herbs are just-picked, vibrant, and enhance most dishes. Organic extra virgin olive oil from the Iaccarino farm is the condiment of choice. Bread (four kinds plus breadsticks) is made with all-mother yeast, served with hand-churned butter or extra virgin. The cuisine is healthy, digestible, and delicious. Ernesto has gone beyond the influence of new-wave Spanish cuisine but uses its technology with intelligence, drawing on his region's traditions.
The members of the Iaccarino family have traveled the world, bringing their cuisine to hotels in Rome, Macau, and the recently opened l'Italien in Marrakech. They have been seduced by the spices and scents of Asia and North Africa and have incorporated them into their cuisine in a most original, un-fusiony style.
Behind the restaurant are gardens with lemon trees, a small but beautiful tiled swimming pool, comfortable lounging areas, and an outdoor dining room for breakfast or light lunch. Breakfast is not to be missed, one of the greatest I've ever encountered: just-squeezed local orange juice, just-made fruit salad, pastries still warm from the oven made with extra virgin (and a brioche roll that's worth a voyage), buffalo milk yogurt, eggs with Irpinia pancetta, organic cereal, crepes with cinnamon and banana.
There's a library and cigar room, with a shop selling Don Alfonso's extra virgin, pasta, tomato sauce, and a few other products that you'll probably fall in love with, like me.
They also have the most beautiful, well-equipped cooking school I've ever seen—more hand-painted tiles, wood-burning ovens for pizza and bread, grill, Berkel salumi slicer. Lessons run from Wednesday to Sunday, and participants can opt for one or more of the five lessons. The family is flexible.
The Iaccarino farm, Le Peracciole, overlooks Capri, and supplies organic fruit, vegetables, olives for extra virgin. If I have to be reborn as a lemon, that's where I want to be. And suites at the relais are simply luxurious, with terrace or garden views, the most comfortable bed I've ever slept on, great reading lamps, comfortable lounging area, fresh fruit, reading material, and a sweet on the night table along with earplugs, since there's a nearby church that seems to love bell-ringing.
Just writing about Don Alfonso makes me want to go back. I wonder what's growing in the garden, and what Ernesto will do with it. That sounds like a good excuse.