This unassuming Midwestern town is perhaps best known as the home of Gateway Arch, but the people of St. Louis are also proud to be the home of one of America’s most enduring Italian neighborhoods, The Hill. . In fact, The Hill is arguably the last “Little Italy” in the United States (according to this June 2020 documentary). But the proof is in the panna cotta, and there can be no greater affirmation of St. Louis’s Italian good faith than the much-anticipated debut of Casa Don Alfonso, the first American outpost of the legendary two-star Michelin Don. Alfonso 1890 in Sant ‘Agata, Italy. Casa Don Alfonso takes its place as the opulent flagship restaurant of the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton St. Louis. For Mario Iaccarino, CEO of Don Alfonso 1890 (which is a family owned restaurant), St. Louis was love at first sight. “From the moment I landed in St. Louis, people made me feel like family.” And, says Iaccarino, “when the people of The Hill came to eat at Casa Don Alfonso and I heard them say, ‘Mario, I dream of home, of my childhood.’ Well then I knew we were going in the right direction.
Indeed, it is impossible not to be transported while dining here. The homemade tomato sauce with its vivid blood orange hue comes from tomatoes grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, and the organic olive oil comes from a small Sicilian producer. Even the waiters’ uniforms feature bow ties and scarves made in a small textile factory in Positano on the Amalfi Coast.
When creating the menu, Iaccarino spent hours flipping through his grandmother’s cookbooks for inspiration. He wanted this menu to reflect both the traditional cuisine of the Italian Amalfi Coast as well as the region’s historic role as one of the first stops on the Silk Road. “Much of our cuisine has been influenced by these cultures,” he explains. “The menu at Casa Don Alfonso represents 2,000 years of Mediterranean history, from spices and vegetables to wine and even pasta, originating in China.”
It also represents the best of Italian ingredients.
Think of pasta. Says Iaccarino, “I have done intensive research and study of every detail, not just the recipes, but the design elements and products that we could bring to St. Louis.” At this point, Iaccarino hands a bag of pasta to the camera during our zoom call, “See this,” he said pointing to the pasta, “This is what we serve at Casa Don Alfonso. best pasta you can buy in the world. When you eat our rigatoni, you eat the best rigatoni on earth. We want your meal to be a complete cultural experience, when you close your eyes and eat our Fritto Misto we want you to smell the sea and the Neapolitan sun.
You will taste the Italian sun, but there is so much more to this restaurant than an exquisite plate. The entire restaurant is a glorious temple to detail; to the spectacular display of 600 hand-blown glass sheets (which must be hand-polished every two weeks) that float delicately above the main dining room. The massive open kitchen is pure culinary theater with a hand painted tiled backsplash and copper clad ceiling setting the stage for the bustling squadron of toque-clad chefs.
The seats are a vast array of leather benches and plush armchairs. The energy of the dining room is vibrant and electric, but the work of the seating and soundproofing is done in such a smart way that you will always enjoy a personal cocoon of calm and be able to hear your companions.
The menu is not a classic Italian menu. Grandma’s Ziti and decadent Maccheroni Gratin (from Grandpa Alfonso’s recipe) are noteworthy, but so are innovative and fresh offerings such as vegan anti-aging soups or ethereal pickled snapper sails. – thin slices of snapper with fresh herbs, pink pepper and topped with an orange supreme and a drizzle of UKTN yogurt. A wood-fired pizza is always an option (black truffle or Calabrian nduja anyone?) But our server indicates that the lasagna, which she proudly explains, “is made with short ribs and takes three days to make” .
The homemade tagliatelle are light and delicate, topped with crab and lobster bisque and a dusting of marjoram and garnished with plump tender shrimp. If you’re not already lost in the Mediterranean, you will surely be with the catch of the day – fresh fish poached in tasty broth and presented to the table wrapped as a birthday present in a pretty translucent foil bag.
From the moment he arrived in the Show-Me State, Iaccarino felt like St Louis was another home. “It was a natural place to build a second home for the restaurant,” he says; “I have met a community of really wonderful people here. We want Casa Don Alfonso to be a beautiful lady for Saint-Louis, a factory of happiness.