Don Alfonso 1890: One of the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy is in Canada
Please note Don Alfonso 1890 was named the second-best Italian restaurant in world in 2023.
Dished had the pleasure of touring the esteemed Don Alfonso 1890 at its newest location right at the top of the Westin Harbour Castle, where it proudly boasts the title of best Italian restaurant in the world, a rank bestowed by 50 Top Italy in early 2022.
The restaurant’s namesake, Italian Chef Alfonso Iaccarino, is renowned for his multiple Michelin Stars and commitment to cooking with the highest quality ingredients, sourced through precise research and a deep-rooted knowledge of quintessentially Italian cuisine.
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Carrying the weight of Chef Alfonso’s reputation in Toronto is Italian-born head chef Daniele Corona, an exuberant and fervent character who proudly leads by example in the restaurant’s open concept kitchen, where everything is prepared fresh and in real time.
The exposed kitchen is a fundamental design element of Don Alfonso’s fine dining experience. Visitors are privy to the restaurant’s inner workings, and chefs, to the mood of their guests. Whilst diners gain a sense of the preparation process, Corona and his colleagues are left to study the reception of their pristinely presented dishes.
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Unique to Don Alfonso 1890 is the 360 view of the city. On the south side is a 180-degree landscape of Lake Ontario, whose horizon mimics an ocean’s. To the north, diners sit amongst the skyline, suspended high above the rumblings of downtown.
The bar is fully stocked and tended by skilled mixologists superior at blending the most blissful cocktails, with the iconic CN Tower as their backdrop.
The food is painterly and delicate in appearance, so much so that it almost feels a shame to touch, with every last detail from plating to placement meticulously considered.
Eager to dig in, we sat down in front of our first course; a serving of freshly baked focaccia, still warm from the oven, with butter so whipped and fluffy it practically disappeared; and to dip, olive oil tapped from a 1000-year-old olive tree.
Next was Le Verdure, a Quinoa salad served with organic seasonal vegetables and roasted eggplant pesto. Its vibrance, colour and variety are reminiscent of a coral reef, whilst its flavour remained subtle and light.
Le Verdure was followed by La Ricciola, a dish of cured smoked amberjack, a Nocellara green olive, charcoaled peppers, and sweet and sour onions.
As the amberjack melted away in our mouths, we learned, to our amazement, that our portion’s singular olive had been deconstructed and then reconstructed to create a delicate shell-like structure, which broke apart with the softest of touches to expose a buttery, syrupy centre.
The aforementioned was accompanied by a ribbon of thinly sliced Ontario Wagyu beef tenderloin, doused in dijon mustard sauce, balsamic vinegar, caviar, Piedmont hazelnuts, and fresh wild herbs. A brilliantly rich and utterly indulgent dish, both aesthetically and in its robust fusion of flavour.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Italian without pasta.
First, we tried Vermicelli allo Sgombro, made with mackerel in carpione style, Sicilian pine nuts, caramelized onions, and an alalunga tuna puree sauce. The noodles were perfectly al dente, and the caramelized onions and pine nuts were just the right amount of crispy to complement the tenderness of the mackerel.
The second was agnolotti, stuffed with Ontario lamb in a Genovese-style ragu, Ontario mushrooms, and Provolone Del Monaco Cheese, topped with fresh black truffle. This dish almost had us fooled, appearing more like a dessert than a distinctly flavourful pasta, that was surprisingly but delightfully savoury.
As our buttons began to burst and we steadily sank into our seats, more food arrived, so we strung ourselves upright and dug into a plateful of seared Quebec muscovy duck breast, gala apple purée, baby spinach, balsamic vinegar, anice demi-glace, and pulverized cinnamon and borage. Soft and seared for not a second over or under optimal time, the lushness of this dish spoke for itself.
As we began to entertain the idea of dessert, our fish course arrived resting on a plate resembling a jagged fragment of glacial ice. Grabbing our cutlery with ever so slight fatigue, we tucked into an impeccably fresh serving of pacific wild halibut, dressed with kale, leek bagnacauda and pickled cime di rapa, a dish that felt fitting given the expansive body of water to our left.
Last, but by no means least, came dessert. Our final course was inspired almost entirely by hazelnuts, presented to us in every fathomable form.
From a candied spear of treacle atop a Piedmont hazelnut parfait, mousse, sponge cake, crumble, raspberry marmalade, and a 24 karat gold leaf, to pink and green macaroons, dark chocolate truffles, and hazelnut crusted ice-cream, ensued a rush of nutty-sweetness. Alongside was a more subtle tasting pistachio ravioli, with Sicilian orange marmalade, fresh orange segments, basil gelatine, and Ontario sheep ricotta.
Don Alfonso 1890 certainly did not fall short of its prestigious title.
This was a truly spectacular meal, executed with incomparable attention to detail, superior knowledge, and a mastery of Italian cooking.
Don Alfonso 1890
Address: 1 Harbour Square on the 38th floor, Toronto