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Bistecca at The Meadows serves contemporary class, Old World charm

| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 2:20 a.m.

Rollicking strains of big-band music float through the air in Bistecca at The Meadows as executive chef Joseph Nolan prepares the most popular entree on the menu: Filet Oscar.

A luscious, 8-ounce filet is lovingly tended to by Nolan, 43, who also is called the chef di cucina , or chef of the kitchen in Italian.

"If it's a good piece of meat, you don't have to do a lot," says Nolan, who worked at the now-defunct Cafe Allegro in the South Side for 23 years. "Just a little bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper."

Nolan will expertly whip up some hollandaise sauce, grill a few asparagus spears, heat jumbo lump crabmeat and serve the dish to appreciative guests. In the few months that Bistecca has been open, it has grown in popularity among casino players and those seeking an elegant dining experience.

Sitting on the Sky Level of the casino, and overlooking the racetrack, Bistecca offers contemporary class with Old World charm. Black-and-white photographs of Italian towns line the taupe walls, and wavy carpeting of burgundy and taupe match the burgundy chairs. Bistecca is billed as an American steakhouse with Italian influences, and Nolan executes the accompanying menu perfectly.

"The menu is corporate-driven," says Nolan, a Bethel Park resident who is married and has three children. "I call it a collaborative effort among me, our corporate chef Greg Alauzen, and Angelo Lamatrice."

The Lamatrice family owns the Pipa Group, whose restaurants include Cioppino, Caffe Amante, Damon's Grill in Bridgeville, and the Clark Bar and Grill in the North Side. Brothers David and Joe Lamatrice run the Pipa Group.

"We're starting to get some of the foodies here," Nolan says. "Once they hear you're out here, they will come out. My immediate future is to put this place on the map as a fine restaurant that people will talk about. I feel that I have a vested interest in this place."

It's no surprise that steaks are a big item at Bistecca, with certified Angus beef from Chicago. In addition to the Filet Oscar, the restaurant offers large portions of Delmonico, New York strip, ribeye, T-bone and a New York strip au poivre, which is crusted with fresh peppercorns. Salmon is a popular entree, as are New Zealand lamb chops, pork chops, gnocchi, roasted chicken and shrimp.

Appetizers include oysters on the half shell, shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, fried calamari, crab bisque, and cured meats and cheeses. The restaurant also features several fresh salads.

"We get our produce from Paragon Monteverde in the Strip District," says Nolan, a 1985 graduate of Mars High School. "And when local stuff becomes available, we'll buy it from local farmers."

Bistecca seats 160, and offers private boxes for the races. Nolan estimates it serves between 200 and 300 dinners on weekend nights, which are always busy.

"The best part of this job is you get immediate gratification," he says. "We're all egomaniacs to some extent. We enjoy people enjoying our food. I want people to say 'wow!'"

The hardest part of the job is the long hours, he admits.

"I work 12-hour days," Nolan says. "Freud said you should have equal parts work, love and play. The hardest is finding that balance."

In addition to being open seven days a week, the restaurant has a Sunday brunch that Nolan would love more people to experience.

"It's not a buffet style -- it's family style," he says. "Our first brunch was Mother's Day, and we served 200 people."

Nolan's kitchen philosophy is easy to follow.

"Good, quality ingredients and simple preparation," Nolan says. "You have to cook from inside. You have to enjoy what you're doing and cook from here (pointing to his heart). When you grow your own tomatoes, they're 100 percent better tasting than when you buy them in a store."

Filet Oscar

This recipe can be served with your choice of Bearnaise Sauce or Hollandaise Sauce. The Bearnaise Sauce takes longer but is well worth the extra steps.

• 4 (8-ounce) center-cut filet mignon

• Freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 8 asparagus spears

• 1/2 pound jumbo lump crab meat, fresh if possible

• Sea salt to taste

• Bearnaise Sauce or Hollandaise Sauce ( see recipes )

Season the filets with pepper and coat with olive oil (see Photo 1 ). (You should not salt a filet before cooking, as salt draws the juice out of the meat.)

Grill or saute the filets over medium-high heat ( Photo 2 ) for 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.

While the filets are cooking, steam the asparagus and heat the crab meat.

After the filets have finished cooking, season them with sea salt. Place each filet on a plate. Top each with 2 ounces crab, 2 asparagus spears and 2 ounces Bearnaise Sauce or Hollandaise Sauce ( Photo 3 ).

Makes 4 servings.

Bearnaise Sauce

• 1/2 tablespoon chopped shallots

• 1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked peppercorns

• 1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon leaves

• 2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

• 2 tablespoons dry white wine

• Water

• 3 large egg yolks

• 6 to 8 ounces clarified butter, warm ( see note )

• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

• 1/2 tablespoon fresh chervil, optional

• Salt to taste

Combine the shallots, peppercorns, dried tarragon, vinegar and wine. Heat to a simmer, and reduce until almost dry.

Add 2 tablespoons water to the reduction.

Combine the reduction with the egg yolks in a stainless-steel bowl. Whip over a bain-marie or double boiler until the yolks form ribbons and triple in volume. They should be light but firm.

Add the clarified butter gradually, whipping constantly. Strain, if necessary, to remove any cooked egg particles.

Add the chopped tarragon and the chervil. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt.

Hollandaise Sauce

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1/2 tablespoon hot sauce

• 3 large egg yolks

• 6 to 8 ounces clarified butter, warm ( see note )

• Salt to taste

Combine the lemon juice and hot sauce with the egg yolks in a stainless-steel bowl ( Photo 4 ). Whip over a bain-marie or double boiler until the yolks form ribbons and triple in volume ( Photo 5 ). They should be light but firm.

Add the clarified butter gradually, whipping constantly. Strain, if necessary, to remove any cooked egg particles.

Season to taste with salt.

Note: To make the clarified butter: Cut unsalted butter into pieces. Melt in a pan over low heat until simmering; do not stir. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, making sure the butter does not sizzle. Strain well to remove the milk solids so that only a clear yellow liquid remains. Or, skim off the froth and carefully pour the clear liquid from the pan, leaving the milk solids behind. Discard the residue.

One stick (8 tablespoons) whole butter will yield 5 to 6 tablespoons clarified butter. Clarified butter can be refrigerated in an airtight container for as long as 1 month.

Additional Information:

Bistecca at The Meadows

Cuisine: American steakhouse with Italian influences

Hours: 4-11 p.m. daily; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Entree price range: $16-$38

Notes: Daily seafood and appetizer specials. Handicapped accessible. Extensive wine list. Major credit cards accepted. Reservations accepted, but not necessary.

Address: 210 Race Track Road, The Meadows, North Strabane

Details: 724-503-1510 or Web site

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