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photo:Shannon DeCelle

Where Fish Meets Rice
By B.A. Nilsson

Barcelona Restaurant
1192 Western Ave., Albany, 438-1144. Serving dinner Mon-Thu 4-10, Fri-Sat 4-11, Sun 4-9. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Cuisine: Spanish-flavored continental
Entrée price range: $12 (eggplant parmigiana) to $26 (seafood paella)
Ambiance: elegant bistro
Clientele: upscale foodies

 

Not long ago, I dined at a well-recommended Spanish restaurant in Manhattan. I had my mouth set for a traditional paella—that wonderful rice-based compote of seafood and sausage—and was disappointed when served a bunch of bland fish over rice delivered from steam-table storage. The two hadn’t met before hitting my plate.

There are hundreds of paella recipes, but they boil down to a sauté of the components, together, in a wide but shallow pan, the paellera. And it turned out that I needed to go no farther than Albany to find it prepared well.

Barcelona for many years was the Michele da Verona restaurant; it changed hands and name in 1998, to what I then termed “an earth-colored villa.” Two years ago it changed hands again, and owners Paul and Minerva Perez have kept the basic look but ramped up both the food quality and the friendliness.

Although Barcelona positions itself as a Spanish restaurant, there’s a more continental feel to the menu. Chef Perez was born in Mexico and steeped in the Oaxacan fare of his boyhood, but his most recent local gig was in the Italian kitchen of Paolo Lombardi’s. And he clearly understands that to succeed in this market, you need to accommodate the tentative.

But the food should win over even the most cautious. The seafood ($26) shamed the downstate batch, arriving with a generous assortment of fish—including a half-lobster atop the plate, which my daughter immediately claimed—mixed with chorizo and, of course, rice nicely redolent of all those briny juices. Small rings of calamari, baby clams, succulent mussels and shrimp completed the generously sized dish.

Many seafood entrées give you more than enough to choose from, including a sautéed trout (deboned) in a lemon-garlic sauce served with prosciutto bits and saffron rice ($16), salmon served with white beans, tomatoes and spinach in a lemon white-wine sauce ($18) and black pepper-rubbed tuna in a Mediterranean pesto cream sauce ($19).

You’ll find easygoing preparations of steak and lamb—carne for the carnivorous—and pork tenderloin in a tomato-rich Mediterranean array ($18). Veal Daniel ($20) turned out to be a very appealing pasta dish, with medallions of battered veal sautéed with mushrooms and prosciutto, with a touch of bourbon in the dark tomato cream sauce that made an excellent linguine accompaniment long after the meat and veggies were gone.

I have to confess that I’m finding bruschetta a tiresome appetizer. If you’re going to mess with Italian bread, I reason, just slather it with garlic butter and be done with it. Trying to balance little chunks of tomato atop a dry bread slice is ever-hazardous to my shirts.

But Barcelona offered a bruschetta appetizer that put me in no such peril: the bread was topped with a thin, creamy layer of an artichoke-spinach combo that worked well, and, at $8 for four slices, made the house a sweet portion of dough for its bread.

Eggplant rollatini ($8) is an appetizer that would work equally well as an entrée. A ricotta and spinach filling was seasoned to give it more depth of flavor than I would expect; with a marinara-mozzarella topping, it was like a gourmet eggplant calzone.

Other starters range from the Spanish, like grilled chorizo ($9), to the Italian (mozzarella and tomatoes, $8), to the bastardized Italian (fried mozzarella sticks, $7). Stuffed mushrooms, fried calamari and grilled portobello mushrooms also fall in that price range, and I recommend the opportunity to try the caracoles ($7)—escargot served on Italian toast with a white wine pesto sauce.

These recurring items—pesto, the Mediterranean combo of tomatoes, olives and garlic, the wine-based sauces—these are among my favorite flavors, and chef Perez combines them so skillfully that the effect on the palate is a joy.

And he positions some of his most innovative dishes under the “salads and light entrées” menu heading. Salad Barcelona ($12) puts fried calamari atop a mesclun mix with a lemon-oil dressing; vegetarian ($12) gives you the glory of the rice stew without all that messy meat. Spiced rice and beans ($12) reads simply enough: “sautéed black and white beans with saffron rice and marinated vegetables,” but those vegetables turned out to be an unexpectedly tasty array, squash and broccoli and cauliflower among the components. For once I believed the promise that they were marinated.

Just as there’s much tradition and variation among paella recipes, so too does flan tend to change. The Barcelona recipe ($5.50) adds some cream cheese to give it a thicker texture—not what I expected, my own preparation being more of the custard variety, but a worthy dessert when you’re accustomed to it.

A reasonably priced and wide-ranging wine list offers by-the-glass choices as well. Service couldn’t have been friendlier, and was reasonably attentive—but my wife had to go prowling for milk to accompany her tea before the stuff got too cold. Nevertheless, Barcelona remains on our short list of places to revisit even though I won’t get reimbursed by the newspaper, and that’s recommendation indeed.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Celebrating chef Eric Masson’s French heritage, the Saratoga Lake Inn and Bistro offers its Fête des Rois (Festival of Kings) menu Jan. 20-23. The four courses include an appetizer (your choice of crepe stuffed with ham and mushrooms, escargot sautéed with wild mushrooms or quiche Lorraine), salad or soup, an entrée of chicken and vegetables in a velouté sauce, petit filet mignon du chef, or sole amandine—and a special “Cake of the King” dessert. Dinner is $29 per person (before tax and tip), and you can make reservations by calling the restaurant at 587-8280. Hours are Wed-Fri 5-9, Sat noon-10, Sun noon-8. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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