Barcelona at Rivers Edge, a new restaurant in Verona, sits on the southern bank of the Allegheny River. Large glass windows front the restaurant, and a wooden deck perches on the roof, offering a glittering, glorious stretch of river below.
A restaurant with a view always sounds appealing. But the view that captivates diners can sometimes be a handicap for quality food. Barcelona has some potential, but in its first few months has drifted toward mediocrity, with just the slightest hint of Mediterranean flavor.
The menu has contemporary touches. Seasonal specials included Copper River salmon and a steak with morel mushrooms. Temperatures were requested for fish, steak and even pork, which even the USDA agrees is safely cooked at medium.
But the food was dominated by relics of American dining past. Rather than crafting each entree as a distinct dish, the majority consisted of a protein with a vegetable and starch of the day. They were plated in a similarly repetitive fashion, with steak, salmon and pork all perched atop a pile of roasted baby zucchini, petite carrots and slender green beans, a few roasted potatoes set to the side.
at Rivers Edge
0 stars = Satisfactory
1 star = Good
2 stars = Very good
1 star = Good
- Hours: Sunday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight, kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
- Basics: The river view is the big draw at this upscale casual restaurant serving a menu of Pittsburgh classics with some Mediterranean influence.
- Recommended dishes: Garlic shrimp, grilled artichoke, lobster crab cake Romano; olives, Manchego and goat cheese plate, shrimp cocktail, and veal osso bucco
- Prices: Appetizers, $5-16; entrees, $14-32; desserts, $7
- Drink: About a half dozen standard beers on draft; full bar; wine list organized by taste profile; six white and seven reds by the glass, starting at $6; 19 whites by the bottle, 11 bottles for $30 or less; 19 reds by the bottle, 8 bottles for $30 or less; short list of premium reds also available
- Summary: Wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations encouraged, for window tables call two weeks ahead; corkage
- Noise level: Medium
The contents of the menu also felt like a bit of a bait and switch, in part because the restaurant is named after a city in Spain, now most famous for its avant-garde cuisine. An early menu included promising options such as gazpacho with smoked almond and apricot, whole grilled bronzino, and cocoa roasted cauliflower. But the chef changed shortly after the restaurant opened, and so did the menu.
Now, it's full of Pittsburgh standards, such as French onion soup, stuffed banana peppers and spicy shrimp pasta. Some of these standards weren't bad, like the crab cake or a dish of lobster mac and cheese. The veal osso bucco was the best of the entrees, properly braised and served with the marrow bone. A steak Delmonico, a special one Wednesday, was just fine, though it was served with slightly soggy morels. The Copper River salmon might have been delicious, if it hadn't been cooked a bit past well-done (it was requested medium).
A reasonable, if quite simple, meal could be built from the appetizer menu, which lends itself best to sharing. A plate of sauteed shrimp was properly garlicky with hints of smoked paprika. Long coils of fried onion contrasted nicely with a moist lobster crab cake. A plate of olives, sharp Manchego and creamy fresh goat cheese was generously portioned, augmented with slippery roasted red peppers and toasted baguette.
Grilled artichokes were an excellent notion, served with a spiced, smoked paprika aioli for dipping, but the kitchen should trim them more aggressively and remove the choke.
A number of entrees need to be seriously reworked, like the lomo, a salt bomb of sauteed beef, peppers, potatoes and shrimp. An indeterminate cut of pork was dense and dry, and served with triangles of roasted apple polenta that had been fried until grainy and tasting of cooking oil. Cioppino Portuguese and Paella Barcelona were practically indistinguishable from each other and bore little resemblance to cioppino or paella. The latter consisted of overcooked rice swimming in a tomato-based broth and topped with a few mussels and clams, dry chicken breast and sliced sausage, a jumble of ingredients that could technically appear in paella, but do not create a paella simply by their presence.
The dining room's wooden floors, handsome striped banquettes and low ceiling striped with antique mirrors lend the room a pleasant yacht-club feel. When it's busy, people were also seated in a dining room that overlooks Allegheny River Boulevard and feels comparatively drearier.
Upstairs, there's a large lounge area with wine lockers, leather couches and flat screen TVs, as well as another great view of the river. The rooftop deck looked like the best seat in the house, but I didn't discover it until the end of our second visit, when I asked if I could look around the space.
Service was confused on one visit; competent, but disengaged from one another. Be warned, even if your reservationist promises you a window table, it might be given away before you arrive, as ours was.
There are bizarre moments of oblivion, like the 20-minute disappearance of the entire host staff as we waited to be seated and a busboy who asked if we wanted water every time he walked by our table, whatever the condition of our glasses. Meals tended to drag. No matter how quickly we ordered, it was impossible to get through three courses in less than two-and-half hours.
The dessert list is a mix of house made and purchased options. Owner Michael Roman has hired a pastry chef from the Longue Vue Club, and they plan to make all the desserts from scratch, starting in a couple of months. Currently, they make creme brulee and sometimes one or two others, but preparations were uneven. Skip dessert and enjoy the delicious shot of Portuguese almond liqueur that comes gratis with the check.
Culinarily, Barcelona doesn't yet add much to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene. But the view is a powerful draw. Order appetizers, accompanied by beer or a bottle of inoffensive wine. Sit outside if you can, and enjoy the river. Maybe someday they'll give you a better reason to look down at your plate.