Sunlight filters through the sky lights of Silvana's Italian Restaurant on North Carson Street. Sitting beneath the sky lights, at a table still decorated for Valentine's Day with paper cut-out hearts and pink carnations, the mother-daughter team of Amy Brown and Jena Taylor raise glasses of red wine into the air.
Here's to success in one of Carson City's most well known, and long-lived, Italian restaurants. Taylor, 23, has taken the chef's hat from former proprietress Silvana Borselli, who operated the upscale yet low-profile restaurant for 19 years.
One of the first business changes the new owners made was to advertise their Valentine's Day dinner. Brown, who bought the restaurant for her daughter, said one of the first changes they made was to advertise. Borselli didn't often advertise, and her restaurant wasn't even listed in the phone book.
Chef Taylor must cook scaloppini Silvana just as Silvana did, and all the other favorites, such as fettuccini alfredo and pasta Helena. Now that she has mastered Silvana's touch, the young Culinary Institute of America graduate is eager to put her own spin on the menu. She's already inserted her own minestrone soup and shrimp cocktail. Her minestrone has more variety of vegetables and a crisper broth, the young chef said. The shrimp cocktail is her grandfather's recipe. Brown and Taylor took over the restaurant Feb. 11.
Silvana's is upscale because the average price of a meal is about $20. It's low-profile because the building was constructed beneath the ground, so only the roof can be seen to the traffic passing by on Carson Street. The oft-remarked "half-building" has windows that are inches above the street, and canopies that dust the sidewalk.
To ease the transition, Borselli showed Taylor how to cook every meal. Borselli was known for never writing down her many recipes.
"We kind of wrote them down, but she just showed me and then it was just repetition," Taylor said. She wore a white chef's shirt and round spectacles above rosy cheeks. Her hair was tucked into a leather cap.
"I'll keep doing her signature dishes and then I will start doing some of my stuff," Taylor said.
Taylor, of Washoe Valley, was taught to cook by her grandfather, before going to school in New York.
Brown said she has a picture of her 18-month-old daughter posed with grandpa beside the Kitchen Aide. He was a medical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who threw large parties for his colleagues. His love of cooking spilled out over onto his granddaughter.
"It's an incredible opportunity for my daughter and it seemed like a good thing to do," Brown said about purchasing the restaurant. "Most culinary students struggle a lot. For a culinary student to come into this restaurant with this reputation and this well established, it's a good opportunity. Unprecedented."
Taylor worked at this restaurant before she went away to culinary school, which was back in 1998. Even back then Borselli had hinted to her protégé that she someday she may wear the chef's hat at Silvana's.
Taylor said she wants to put Mediterranean dishes on the menu, then open for lunch and a Sunday brunch. The first Sunday brunch is scheduled for Easter Sunday.
Taylor plans to add a bread pudding and a custard dessert. Her favorite dish is the pasta primavera, even though Taylor said that she has a hard time eating what she cooks. Perhaps it's because she spends about 10 hours a day on "the line," which is her corner of the kitchen.
"I spend so much time around food, I smell it all the time," the chef said. "Sometimes I just want something else, like a tuna fish sandwich. I ate half a one yesterday and I thought it was the best tuna fish sandwich in the world!"
Lessons from the best
Silvana Borselli, 71, spends her days watching her grandchildren grow up. Borselli is recovering from a recent shoulder surgery, so she yearns for the days when she can golf again. Since her surgery she's had to rely on others to prepare her meals.
"I'm not able to do a lot of things right now," the Zephyr Cove woman said with her heavy Italian accent. "That's why I need to take time out, not because I didn't love the business, or love cooking. I felt that I wanted to enjoy my grandkids and my family."
Borselli said she was charmed by Taylor and Brown, and is sure that they will succeed with Silvana's.
"She (Taylor) is young and she doesn't have the expertise I had after 19 years, but she is so excited about it and she is a hard worker," Borselli said. "She is going to do something good, maybe better than I did."
Taylor impressed her the last night the two worked together, when they had a packed dining room for Valentine's Day. She said Taylor's menu was elegant and the restaurant was decorated in a way she had never imagined.
The veteran chef plans to go back to school to learn how to write English and take piano lessons.
"There's a lot of life left," she said. "I want to be able to enjoy the many, many years that God has given to me."
Silvana's, 1301 N. Carson St., is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.