No. 49: Don Alfonso 1890
Liberty Entertainment founder and kingpin Nick Di Donato had long harboured a plan to try and bring some of the grandeur of the multi-Michelin-starred dining experience to downtown Toronto. He had a location (his two-decade-old Rosewater was running out of steam), but he needed a partner anointed with the right culinary fairy dust.
And in 2017, while on vacation in Sant’Agata on the Amalfi Coast, he found one. The original Don Alfonso 1890 has been in the Iaccarino family since—well, you can probably guess. It earned its first Michelin star under chef Alfonso Iaccarino in 1985, and since 1990 it has never had fewer than two. More important, the restaurant had experience establishing satellite Don Alfonsos elsewhere.
So a deal was struck, and the Rosewater prepared for transplant. Its kitchen area was more than doubled, and the main floor seating shrank to 68 (that’s Michelin-style economics). Designer Nadia Di Donato had a blinding amount of white marble installed, along with striking white leather and brass chairs, spiffy art (by Philippe Pasqua and Daniel Mazzone) and the most elaborate selection of handcrafted flatware you’ll find in any restaurant.
Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino trained the local kitchen team, led by Saverio Macri. The results are contemporary and pretty, and speak with only a subtle Italian accent. The $150 tasting menu typically begins with an array of tartares (bison, tuna, beet) arranged on different puffed chips. Pasta courses tend to startling deconstructions—like rosewater-scented tagliatelle with caviar and a quenelle of eel ice cream.
Fish might come showered in Italian truffles or as a ceviche splattered with cream. Alberta bison stars in a sort of Italian-style bison Wellington, the tenderloin wrapped in chard and mozzarella and a thin, crisp bread crust. Desserts range from classic (sfogliatella) to dramatic (new-age petits fours). The wine list is solidly international. Throngs of wait staff provide over-attentive service.