Barcelona at Rivers Edge offers exotic tastes along the Allegheny
"Restaurants are in my blood," says Anthony Michael Roman, owner and manager of Barcelona at Rivers Edge in Penn Hills. He got his start at age 12, helping his parents who owned the now-defunct Chick's Copper Mug in McCandless.
Over the years, he had been involved with a number of restaurants but dreamed of someday opening one that featured Spanish cuisine.
"I'm Italian and I did an Italian restaurant before. But anyone can open an Italian restaurant," he says.
Last October, he quit his job as a vice president in charge of sales for a roofing and solar company to pursue his dream.
"I wanted a destination restaurant; not one that would attract people within five or six miles, but all the way from West Virginia and Ohio," he says. "And I wanted it to be mid-price, unique and different."
After looking at dozens of locations around the area, Roman was about to sign a lease when a friend suggested he take a look at the former La Recette on Allegheny River Boulevard.
Despite the fact that it had been closed for six years and needed lots of renovation and repair, Roman couldn't resist the view of the Allegheny River and the fact that 19,000 cars pass by every day.
When the restaurant opened March 8, it had new equipment, a smart-looking second-floor lounge, a spacious outdoor roof deck and a brand-new look.
Chef Christian Dennae, who previously served as executive chef at the Sewickley Heights Golf Club, presides over the kitchen. "His vision is much like mine," Roman says.
Barcelona offers a panoramic view of the Allegheny River and the hills beyond. Big glass windows fill one wall of both the main dining room and the adjoining bar leaving little room -- or need -- for other decor, though the obligatory widescreen TV does fill one side wall in the bar area.
An additional dining room near the entrance has cheery yellow walls.
The setting is elegant but casual -- white tablecloths, black cloth napkins and contemporary Spanish music providing a subtle underscoring for the restaurant's culinary theme.
The wait staff is welcoming and friendly, happy to offer opinions or provide information on ingredients and preparation styles. A tiny complimentary plate of tapenade and toast rounds arrived with our pre-dinner drinks.
The evening we were there, the hostess was offering tours of the upstairs roof deck and lounge. When a diner at a nearby table expressed disappointment that mussels were not listed as an appetizer, the staff happily accommodated him.
As with any new restaurant, there are still speed bumps and glitches. The table we were seated at wobbled. A unexplained service gap separated the appetizer and main courses and another, longer wait had us questioning the wisdom of having ordered dessert.
On the plus side, a refilled bread basket arrived during the first pause and a complimentary shot of liqueur was offered and arrived with our bill.
As you might expect from its name, Spanish items predominate the menu. There's also a number of Portuguese and Italian items sprinkled throughout to accommodate those diners who asked for them. Rather than just cook up the tried-and-true, Roman likes to give those familiar items a twist.
Instead of the traditional Veal Oscar, Barcelona's Chuleta de Ternera Estilo Oscar ($32) is a thick, juicy grilled veal chop with bits of crab and a spicy-but-light barbecue sauce, served with freshly grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes.
The traditional tart and creamy Caesar Salad ($8 or $3 as an entree addition) comes with bits of Manchego cheese and Serrano ham plus a pair of fritters stuffed with goat cheese and anchovies.
Bronzini La Brasa ($26) is one of the most popular entrees, Roman says. The grilled sea bass comes with a roasted tomato and caper vinaigrette plus the vegetable and potato of the day.
We chose to dive into a big bowl of Cioppino Portugues ($26), a seafood stew with a generous mix of clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops plus some slices of chorizo sausage and fresh fettuccine swimming companionably in a tomato broth that was a tad too salty.
There's a nice selection of tapas on the appetizer menu and it would be easy -- and pleasant -- to make a meal by combining and sharing several of these small plates. We ordered two as appetizers and were richly rewarded.
Alcachofas ala Brasa ($9) -- grilled artichokes -- were nicely matched with an aoli spiked with smoked paprika. Chorizo Crujiente ($10) offered big chunks of grilled chorizo served with a marmalade of red onion, jalapeno pepper and tomatillo that was more sweet and comforting than its fiery ingredient list would suggest. Both were nicely paired with garlicky, oily toast rounds.
The night we were there, dessert choices were an unimaginative list of sweets you could get anywhere. We split an Apple Blossom ($6), a not-very inspired apple dumpling that almost redeemed itself with a small scoop of cinnamon ice cream and a drizzle of real caramel sauce.
That may have changed by now, though. Roman and Dennae have been schooling their pantry chefs in the art of pastry-making. Within the next few weeks, Roman plans to unveil a list of desserts, all of which will be made in-house.Additional Information:
Barcelona at Rivers Edge
Cuisine: Mediterranean, with flair of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, bar open until midnight; 4-9 p.m. Sundays for bar and kitchen.
Entree price range: $16-$32
Notes: Outdoor deck opens later this spring; wine lockers available for rent; cigar bar coming soon, reservations accepted and encouraged; handicapped-accessible; accepts most major credit cards.
Location: 4616 Allegheny River Boulevard, Penn Hills
Details: 412-793-1777 or website