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Bistecca offers menu variety, racetrack view

BACKGROUND

Bistecca Steakhouse and Wine Bar, the fifth and latest addition to the Pipa Group's collection of restaurants, opened April 17 inside the Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Strabane Township.

"It was a great opportunity to open a new restaurant that would be different to the area," says David Lamatrice, president of the Pipa Group, whose other restaurant holdings are Cioppino, Caffe Amante, the Clark Bar and Grill and Damon's Grill in Bridgeville. His brother Joe is Pipa Group's vice president.

To serve as Bistecca's executive chef, Lamatrice hired Joseph Nolan, who had been executive chef at Cafe Allegro in the South Side until it closed in 2008.

Whereas Cafe Allegro served Mediterranean cuisine with a French accent, Bistecca is a steakhouse with an Italian flair, and Nolan has a title to match.

"We call him our chef de cucina," Lamatrice says.

For the new restaurant's pastry chef, the Lamatrice brothers looked no further than the kitchen of Cioppino in the Strip District. They tapped Meghan Walsh, who has been creating pastries there since Cioppino opened last fall. She now creates pastries for both restaurants.

Atmosphere

The dining room at Bistecca is upscale but relaxed. Situated on the upper or Sky Level of the complex, many of the room's white cloth-covered tables overlook the Meadows Racetrack, so you can keep tabs on your bets while enjoying dinner. More tables fill a glass-walled alcove above -- but out of view of -- the casino floor.

Black-and-white photographs of romantic Italian towns adorn charcoal gray walls. In good weather, it's possible to dine al fresco on the restaurant's terrace. The full menu is available Sundays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, when the restaurant gets busy, the terrace features a separate and more casual menu of small plates and just a few entrees.

The restaurant is busiest from 7 p.m. until closing on Fridays and Saturdays, when there's lots of visitors to the track and casino. Earlier in the week, more local residents have been stopping by to check out the menu.

It's possible for large groups to enjoy Bistecca's menu while watching the races from one of the adjoining Sky Level Suites that offer theater-style seating and a dining area as well as privacy.

The staff is welcoming, cheery and accommodating. Most importantly, waitstaff knows the menu and how dishes are prepared. They also feel comfortable offering suggestions and recommendations on food and the extensive list of Italian and American wines.

Menu

No matter how you do at the slots or placing bets, Bistecca Steakhouse and Wine Bar sends you home satisfied.

Given its name, it's not surprising that the signature items are cuts of certified Angus Beef or USDA prime.

Lamatrice is proudest of the 12-ounce Delmonico ($31), a classic cut of beef, even though he admits that filets are more popular.

That's understandable.

Filet Oscar ($35), an 8-ounce center-cut filet, was cooked exactly to order -- medium rare and still pink in the middle and quite a flavorful, moist and tender piece of meat. It would have been terrific on its own. Served with jumbo lump crab, asparagus and lemony hollandaise sauce, it was even better.

In addition to the extensive regular menu, Bistecca offers a swiftly changing list of specials, some of which cater to those with an appetite for seafood. Given its limited availability, we pounced on the Soft-shell Crab and Crabcake ($28), both of which met and exceeded expectations.

Along with our entrees, we split side orders of House Fries ($5) and Creamed Spinach ($6). The skinny but lackluster fries were redeemed by an accompanying dish of lemony aoili that would have made shredded newspaper appetizing. To its credit, the Creamed Spinach emphasized vegetable over sauce with just a dusting of the requisite nutmeg.

With more than 150 bottles and 20 glasses of Italian and American wines to choose from, there's bound to be something for every palate and pocket. Our waitress helped us pair wines that matched our entrees and our budget. They were so good that a second glass was in order.

While sipping the first glass, we relaxed with the hot and creamy Shrimp and Crab Dip ($11) that arrived still bubbling from the oven in a tiny cast-iron skillet. Big chunks of sweet crab and bits of shrimp went well with the crunchy, herb-dusted rounds of crostini.

Desserts made in-house should always be encouraged.

Again following our waitress's suggestion, we left the Zabaglione with fresh berries and Marsala custard ($6) for another visit and chose the Cannoli with Sambuca Cream ($6).

It was a wise choice. Inside the crisp, crackly pastry tube was a mixture of sweet ricotta and marscapone enlivened with bits of orange zest and flavor-packed cherries that had been soaked in sambuca.

We didn't need any persuasion to try the Vanilla Panna Cotta ($5), silky smooth and subtly sweetened and served with some tiny biscotti cookies.

Additional Information:

Bistecca Steakhouse and Wine Bar

Cuisine : Steakhouse with Italian flair

Hours : 4-11 p.m. Mondays-Sundays. Brunch from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sundays

Entree price range : $15-$35

Notes : Outdoor dining terrace. Full bar and extensive wine list. Accepts most major credit cards. Reservations accepted. Free parking in casino garage. Valet parking available for $5.

Location : Sky Level of the Meadows Racetrack and Casino, 210 Racetrack Road, North Strabane, Washington County

Details : 724-503-1510 or Web site

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