When Kester Sylvester and his wife, Dr Chereis Sylvester, took over La Cantina, an authentic Italian pizzeria a stone's throw away from the glass bottom boat and the crab and dumpling vendors of Store Bay, Tobago, in 2009, the restaurant steadily became a phenomenal success and one of the most buzzed-about eateries in Tobago.
The Sylvesters have done it again; this time, they've brought La Cantina to Trinidad—on Victoria Avenue, Port of Spain, to be exact. And they managed to do something that many in the restaurant business thought was impossible—a successful crossover from Tobago to Trinidad. Thus far, they have duplicated the success the restaurant has in the sister isle.
"In the first year of business in Tobago, our business came mainly from tourists, but as the tourism industry changed, so did our clients—most of them are Trinidadian. All of our customers asked when we were coming to Trinidad. Well, we listened and now, we are here,"said Kester Sylvester.
Since La Cantina opened its doors in Trinidad for the first time in late December last year, the restaurant has had solid bookings and has become a popular haunt for its usual fans, as well as for those who have heard about the restaurant through word of mouth.
And with its new, sprawling location on Victoria Avenue, there is now more for customers to enjoy. Pizza lovers can now enjoy authentic Italian pizza outside on the patio or in the spacious dining room of the building, which has had a history of 120 years.
Diners wishing to start or end their meals with drinks can choose from a new-and-improved, expanded drink list in the lounge, which is separate from the dining room but not far away from the tantalising, mouth-watering scent of mozzarella cheese melting on your favourite pizzas in the wood-burning stone oven.
While some foodies view the word "authentic" with cynicism and a bit of apprehension, make no mistake about it, the pizzas at La Cantina are as close to the real deal as they can possible get. The cheese that goes into the more than 40 pizzas available at La Cantina are Italian. The chefs are also Italian.
"We have the only authentic wood-burning stove oven of its size and quality in Trinidad. Our meats and cheeses are 100 per cent Italian, and our ability to present an authentic Italian pizza experience while, at the same time, offering Trini flavour sets us apart, and added to that, the variety is second to none,"said Sylvester.
Variety—it's one thing there is no shortage of at La Cantina. While the restaurant is strictly a pizzeria and has stayed loyal to its core, diners can opt to try any of La Cantina's five antipasti (appetiser) dishes, including prosciutto-wrapped pears, or sample an assortment of cheese and Italian meats. There are also 13
Mediterranean-esque salads to choose from. But as for the main star attraction—the pizza—customers have quite the selection. With more than 40 to choose from, divided into three categories: vegetarian, meat and seafood, deciding the pizza of your choice may take a little longer than usual.
From the basic "Trinidad": pepperoni, pineapple and mozzarella, to the exotic "Soviet": caviar, salmon and mozzarella, La Cantina uses a host of ingredients to give their pizzas the right amount of class and edge. For the diner looking to try something new, the "Popeye": spinach, egg and mozzarella, is a strange yet perfect and tasty combination.
The average pizza eater may never appreciate the pizzas at La Cantina, said Sylvester. But he understands it is impossible to please everyone. La Cantina, he said, is not in competition with anyone. La Cantina has stuck to doing what they do best and it has paid off. For two years straight, La Cantina has been voted the best restaurant in Crown Point by review website Trip Advisor. That honour is only awarded after 12 months of consistency, and keeping up the standards in Tobago is general manager Riccardo Barca.
"Our Tobago branch is our baby. La Cantina is now a brand, and we hope to branch out even further. But we make sure to keep the quality and standard at both restaurants," said Sylvester.