Saturday, December 16, 2017

High cuisine at Villa Taina

Bar-at-nightNext year January, it will be five years since Chef Luciano Merlino joined Restaurant Serenade at Villa Taina. Recent renovations have given the restaurant and bar a modern look while keeping the rustic original style, and in this beautiful and cozy setting, we had a chat with this multi-talented, flamboyant Italian chef to get more of an insight into the restaurant’s impeccable international cuisine with a Mediterranean touch and his passion for beautiful and tasty dishes.


LC: How would you describe the cuisine at Serenade?
LM: The menu features many international dishes as well as my own creations. All international dishes, for example sirloin steak with green pepper sauce, is made according to the international recipe, so that when you order a sirloin steak with green pepper sauce in an international restaurant in New York, you’ll get the same here. However, I like to give a Mediterranean touch to my cuisine, so the cuisine is more of a fusion between international cuisine and Mediterranean. I also like to dress up my dishes. It’s very important to me that my dishes look good. After all, you first eat with your eyes, and only then with your mouth.
LC: When you first started nearly five years ago, what were your first changes to the restaurant?
LM: I recreated the Menu as it is now and implemented new working procedures. One of the most important changes was that I made sure that we always buy first quality ingredients. Also, for many years we have been working with the company, Preverisk, for our quality control. They implemented a number of health and safety procedures according to international standards. For example, every day we keep a records of our temperatures of our refrigeration systems and every month Preverisk comes and revises our equipment, takes samples for lab tests and gives constant training in the health and safety procedures we have in place. Recently, we also had a water purification system installed in both the restaurant and the bar so that all fresh produce including salad is washed in purified water, for the safety of our patrons 
LC: Tell us a bit more about the ingredients you buy…
LM: To make great tasting food you need great quality produce. Being Italian, I am especially picky when it comes to olive oil, which has to be first quality olive oil from Tuscany. All our dry pasta is also imported from Italy. I also buy fresh pasta from an Italian in Las Terrenas who makes beautifully fresh pasta in the artisanal way.
Yoghurt and mozzarella I buy from an Italian company here on the north coast. Their cow’s milk mozzarella tastes in my opinion even better than in Italy as Dominican milk has a higher fat percentage than in Europe. I don’t know why but it has been tested that the natural fat percentage of Dominican milk is around 5,5%, whereas in Europe it’s around 4,5%. And they know how to process the milk in such a way that mozzarella they produce is fantastic.
We get our fish and seafood fresh from the local fishermen here. Whenever we buy from them, I personally check every single fish and shellfish to make sure they are fresh and what we need. On our menu we also have an exclusive farm-raised fresh water fish called “Pangsius” or “Caribbean Swai”.
The only fish on our menu that we import is salmon, because you can’t find salmon here. We also import our Angus beef.
We buy our fruit and vegetables every day fresh from the market in Santiago and seven different types of fresh bread daily from a German bakery in the area.

LC: Of all the mouthwatering dishes on your menu, which one do you like best?
LM: This is a very difficult question… it depends on whether we’re talking about a pasta dish, a main dish or a dessert… The pasta I like best is fresh Fettuccine with shellfish and langostinos. For a main dish I would choose an Argentinian Churrasco, beef grilled to perfection on the barbeque; and for dessert I would choose a cake called Saint Honore, which is good enough to raise the dead and which we will serve for our special Christmas Menu this year. Or I would choose our homemade Panacotta or Mousse au chocolat.
LC: You seem to have a special passion for desserts…
LM: I am passionate about decorating dishes and with desserts you can really let your imagination run free, which is why I love making desserts. Through decorations I can express my way of being and of course the taste of a great dessert is the best way to round off a great meal. Here at Villa Taina we offer cakes for every occasion, decorating them specifically for the occasion. My last piece of art was a wedding cake with kitesurf motifs.

LC: Lastly, at Serenade you offer a number of theme nights, tell us a bit more about those.
LM: On Wednesday evenings we have Mongolian Grill night with live music and an all-you can eat buffet with us cooking the ingredients people choose from the buffet in front of them. On Fridays we have the Shrimp and Lobster night, more of a romantic night out for couples to enjoy fresh seafood. On Saturdays we have our Argentinian Grill night, with a great selection of meats cooked on our Italian style barbeque. On Sundays we offer a Dominican buffet night, with typical Dominican dishes made with a lot of care. All theme nights also have a wide choice of desserts! [laughs]

On Saturdays we also have live music and after everyone has been served, I perform myself  for about 40 minutes.  The music we play is a mixture of international soft rock and people love it. So much so, that I am now bringing out a CD called “The Chef Show and Friends”.

Serenade Restaurant
Serenade Restaurant, is open every day to the public for breakfast lunch and dinner. Breakfast Buffet starts at 7:30 am. Lunch specials are served from 11am to 4pm and dinner is served until 10pm. The theme nights start at 7:30pm.
For more information check out Serenade’s website




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