In 2006 I happened upon an Italian restaurant in Cocoa Beach called Silvestro’s. It had opened only a year earlier, but the food was a wonderful reminder of old Rome. The chef/owner, Silvestro Antonioli, was obviously a master of Italian cuisine. In fact the food was so good that I was willing to overlook a kitschy decor and numerous problems with service.
Now Antonioli has opened another restaurant closer to metro Orlando. But while the Lake Mary Silvestro’s has dropped the kitsch in favor of a more modernistic, if ultimately cold, interior, it lacks the same skillfully prepared food. Nothing I sampled on my recent visit led me to believe the two restaurants were related.
Our unfortunate visit began at the front door where a dour young woman gave an unenthusiastic “hello.” Then, she simply stared at me as if to say, “So whaddya want, mister?” No “Welcome to Silvestro’s; how may I help you?” or “Good evening, do you have a reservation?” I did have a reservation, and after I told her the name she replied with a curt, “This way,” as she walked into the dining room.
Our server was much more affable, although she had the annoying habit of referring to me and my guest as “fellas.” I’m still trying to decide if that’s better or worse than “you guys.” Either way, it’s not as good as gentlemen.
But she was sufficiently cheery and explained the specials to us promptly.
One of the specials was a lentil and sausage soup that sounded perfect for the cold evening, so that’s what I ordered for my starter course. There were plenty of lentils, less sausage, but the bigger problem with the soup was that it seemed to be merely a bowl of separate ingredients -- the sum of its parts did not create a whole.
My friend had the calamari e gamberi saltati, which had three very nice, large and firm shrimp and a small stack of sauteed squid. It was all doused with a heavy garlic sauce.
We had barely begun our first course when our server appeared holding two large plates and looking for space on the table to put them down. These were our entrees, and I let it known that I had not yet had time to eat the first course. After a short beat, she offered to return them to the kitchen. After she did, she came back to apologize and tell us the dishes would be remade when we were ready because there were no heat lamps in the kitchen to keep them hot.
Only one of the entrees was worth waiting for. That was the saltimbocca, which featured tender veal scallops sauteed with butter and topped with prosciutto and fresh sage. The dish included a generous stack of vegetables as well as braised cabbage. And in the center of the plate, under the veal, were some roasted potatoes with a delicious caramelized coating.
My friend’s fettuccine all carbonara, however, was a disappointment. It, too, was a generous portion of pasta in heavy cream sauce. But there was barely any of the smoked bacon that was supposed to be in it -- what’s carbonara without some carbon? -- and what tiny flecks we found were all but flavorless.
I saw no one during my dinner who I could definitely identify as a person in charge. It might have been the very young man who delivered a glass of wine to the table next to mine, waxing eloquent about the qualities of the wine as he set it down, impressing the diners there. The wine had, however, been ordered by my companion.
The decor at the Lake Mary Silvestro’s is as different from the Cocoa Beach restaurant as the food. Red is the dominant color, in the booth seats and the light pendants that hang over most of the tables and the length of the 20-seat bar. Here the tables are bare instead of covered with white tablecloths. The floor is a slanted pattern of blond wood, and light jazz plays in the background. It isn’t especially warm and inviting, but it isn’t unpleasant, either.
In fact, I would be able to overlook any shortcomings in the decor -- or even in the sullen person at the front door -- if the food had been as good as what I experienced on the coast. Sadly, it was not.
Silvestro’s is at 7025 County Road 46A, Lake Mary. It is open nightly for dinner. Click here to see Silvestro’s Web site.