It’s always exciting when St. Louis gets a new addition to the gastronomique landscape. So let’s cue the confetti for Casa Don Alfonso, the Ritz Carlton’s recent contribution to Italian cuisine. Do we need another pasta palace in the Lou, you ask? Some might say no. But Casa Don Alfonso brings a new dimension to local menus and a comfortable ambiance made for relaxed dining.
When I lunched recently in the reimaged dining room, the first thing I noticed was that the original three dining areas (The Restaurant, The Grill, and Cigar Club) had been consolidated into one large space. The new layout seats about 90, while the U-shaped bar serves around 50, and the lounge area has room for 30.
On the Lunch Menu
Family Know How
Owner Mario Iccarino hails from southern Italy, where his family has been in the hotel/restaurant business for four generations. Iccarino’s first restaurant in the U.S. is more relaxed, less hoity-toity, than Don Alfonso 1890, the family’s flagship location opened by Mario’s parents in the 70s. The place still sits astride the hilltop village of Sant’Agata near Naples and sports a 2-star Michelin rating. The family also has two other boutique restaurants: one in Toronto and the other in Macao.
Mario, who grew up in the village, takes pride in offering the same rustic dishes served by his grandmother—food unembellished by modern makeovers. (Here’s the link, if you’re interested in making Grandma Titina’s acclaimed Ziti recipe, that inspired Mario to keep the family’s culinary flame alive. (See the Post Script at the end for my take on the recipe)
The attractive setting of Casa Don Alfonso is punched up with paintings, family photos, Italian ceramic tiles in fruit and floral designs, and a lavender-blue color scheme, that reflects the flower fields found in Mario’s native village. Some of the kitchen ingredients come from the family farm or, at least, the same region in southern Italy: olive oil, pasta noodles, tomato sauce, espresso, and wines. Coffee is sourced locally from Kaldi’s.
In my visit with the friendly and conscience restaurant supervisor, Jeffrey Sherman, I learned that their Parmesan is made by Italy’s only female cheese maker and aged more than 2 years. He said the unique ceiling artwork displays 600 Wisteria leaves, that are hand-cleaned once a month.
I Return for Sunday Brunch
You can find Casa Don Alfonso open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and Sunday brunch. This place is what every dining experience should be: relaxed, comforting, and delicious. Since it’s just several blocks from my condo, this could easily become my village restaurant.
Be sure to visit the restroom whether you need to, or not. The marble sinks are worth the trip.
I Gave Grandma Titina’s Recipe a Try
First, let me say that I’m not a fat noodle person; I prefer the thinner pasta. And Zita is a bit chunky. Even so, the dish has an old world quality about it, not too unlike the pasta I’ve eaten in Italy and Sicily. I’m sure area residents use fresh ingredients, which would definitely add to the charm of the rustic dish.
The recipe is easy to make, provided you have some anchovies on hand, which I’ve learned to do. After opening a tin of the fish fillets, I put the extras in the freezer.