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Owner focuses on consistency at his new Verona restaurant

| Sunday, May 15, 2011

Anthony Michael Roman likes to say his Mediterranean restaurant and cigar bar is "view-tiful."

As owner of the 2-month-old Barcelona at Rivers Edge on Allegheny River Boulevard, Roman is proud that diners can gaze at the Allegheny River as they enjoy their meals from just about any seat in the restaurant. Formerly known as La Recette, the building had been closed for six years when Roman discovered it.

"I always wanted a Spanish tapas place, and last October, I quit my job to go back into the restaurant business," says Roman, 51, a married father of three whose family owned Chick's Copper Mug in McCandless. "I was on a mission to find a place, and had been negotiating with a couple of other places, and then, I found this. We closed the deal on Jan. 2."

But even the breathtaking scenery couldn't cushion the fact that the building had fallen into disrepair and needed "new everything."

"Fifteen contractors were here seven days a week, working 12-hour days," Roman says. "And we were only one week late in opening."

Barcelona at Rivers Edge is the kind of stylish restaurant that would impress many a first date, and certified foodies looking for a different kind of Mediterranean cuisine. Spanish music plays in the background as visitors take in the gleaming hardwood floors, marble-top bar and multi-level dining rooms that seat 80. A lovely outdoor deck upstairs seats 36, and an elegant, just opened, 40-seat cigar bar completes the picture.

"Our main focus is the restaurant," Roman says. "I wanted a destination-type place that pulls customers from all over. Our specialty is Mediterranean cuisine, and nothing is pre-manufactured. Everything's fresh."

Executive chef Christian Dennae, 50, oversees and executes the extensive menu, which offers soups, salads, tapas, entrees, pastas and desserts. Titles of the dishes are written in Spanish, with English descriptions.

Tapas include garlic shrimp with smoked paprika; grilled artichoke with spiced paprika aioli; grilled chorizo with red onion, jalapeno and tomatillo marmalade; lobster crab cake with blood-orange beurre blanc; and cured olives, manchego and goat cheese plate.

Fresh seafood is the core of the menu, says Dennae, a New England native who had a restaurant on Nantucket Island for 20 years. He receives most of his seafood from Boston, with some coming from Curtze, out of Erie.

"We use only wild-caught fish in all the dishes," says Dennae, a Sewickley resident who has three children. "If you've ever seen how factory fish are raised, you'd never eat that again. We sell a tremendous amount of seafood."

Entrees feature seared boat scallops with maple-chipotle glaze; seafood paella, roasted chicken breast with fettuccine carbonara; filet mignon with Serrano ham; osso bucco; seared pork with a soft apple polenta; sesame-crusted ahi tuna with saffron rice; and Portuguese cioppino, with clams, mussels, shrimp, chorizo and pasta.

"I have one of the most unique kitchens in Pittsburgh -- it's all women except for me," Dennae says. "When I hire chefs, I look for those with practical experience who are open to what's going on."

Dennae and Roman have been friends for a long time, Dennae says, and when Roman called him last year about the opportunity, he jumped.

"I was sitting on the deck of my condo in Florida when I got called up to the majors," he says with a laugh. "Barcelona brought me back, and I'm planning to stay in Pittsburgh for a while."

Roman started helping at his parents' restaurant, Chick's Copper Mug, when he was 12, picking up trash and sweeping cigarette butts off the parking lot. His Italian mother, Joanne, is a "great cook" who taught Roman the appreciation of food. Roman worked as a line cook, broiler cook, and learned the most from family friend Nick Coletti, the former executive chef of the Duquesne Club, who died about 10 years ago.

"Nick was listed as one of the top 10 chefs in America at one time," Roman says. "He helped me a lot. I learned that every day you're always learning something different, and you need to be open to trying new things."

Roman's father, Chick, visits the restaurant a couple times a week to lend his expertise where it's needed. Both parents are retired.

"The best advice I ever got was from my dad when I was 18," Roman says. "He told me, 'you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with.' And he's right -- I can't do it all myself."

The philosophy at Barcelona at Rivers Edge can be summed up in one word: consistency.

"We are looking for consistency in everything, from the food, the service, the presentation, down to the way the tables are set," he says. "We emphasize fresh, quality food at a good value."

Seafood Paella

Chef Christian Dennae is sharing his delicious Seafood Paella entree, which is one of Barcelona's more popular items. This hearty dish incorporates short-grain rice and several kinds of seafood, along with chicken and chorizo sausage.

He uses saffron threads in the dish, but since saffron is selling for $84 an ounce, he realizes that many cooks will have to substitute something less expensive. He suggests Sazon seasoning. This seasoning, which can be found in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores, gives off a similar flavor to saffron and won't hurt your wallet.

Dennae recommends serving this satisfying entree with "as much sangria as possible."

For the marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 2-inch pieces

In a medium bowl, mix together olive oil, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in chicken pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate.

For the paella:

  • 4 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup sofrito (can buy in any grocery store)
  • 1 cup uncooked short-grain white rice
  • 1/2 pinch saffron threads (optional); or use 2 packets Sazon seasoning, which can be found in the Hispanic section of most supermarkets
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1/4 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound chorizo sausage, sliced
  • 6 little neck clams
  • 6 mussels (shell on)
  • 6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 jumbo scallops

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or paella pan over medium heat. Stir in garlic, sofrito and rice. Stir to coat rice with oil and cook about 3 minutes. Stir in saffron threads, bay leaf, parsley and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a separate skillet over medium heat. Stir in marinated chicken and onion. Cook 5 minutes.

Stir in bell pepper and sausage, cook another 5 minutes. Stir in shellfish, cook 5 minutes, and then, add shrimp, scallops, and rice.

Bake in 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Additional Information:

Barcelona at Rivers Edge

Cuisine: Mediterranean with Spanish, Portuguese and Italian influences

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays. Cigar bar: 7 p.m.-midnight Mondays through Saturdays, 7-10 p.m. Sundays.

Entree price range: $17-$32

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Outdoor dining on deck. Wine lockers available for rent. Reservations accepted but not required. Full bar and wine list.

Address: 4616 Allegheny River Blvd., Verona

Details: 412-793-1777 or website

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