“Me Gusto Mucho”
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 10 Food 9 Ambiance 9 Price – $$$
What do you get when you cross the light red sauces and garlic piquancy of sunny Italy with the sweet, fruity flavors of rose-pink sangria and warm Spanish paella stirred together in a lively, romantic ambiance? Answer: The Barcelona Restaurant at 1192 Western Avenue in Albany.
Paul Perez and Minerva Martinez have co-owned and managed the Barcelona Restaurant since 2003. Together they have truly captured the festive essence of Mediterranean cuisine and combined it with the warmth and relaxation of lemon-kissed Tuscany and side-street Costa del Sol.
Chef Paul Perez, originally from Mexico, has designed a menu of appetizers, main-course dinners and luscious desserts based on his ethnic and professional backgrounds. The Barcelona Restaurant, once a two-story residence (and the previous location of Michele da Verona Ristorante), is located on Western Avenue across from the park-like entrance to SUNY Albany. Its seating areas include a large side-porch, main dining room (seating around 40 patrons), a second-floor dining room for larger gatherings and banquets, and a spacious, sun-drenched al fresco veranda overlooking the University grounds.
The fully stocked “alcove-like” bar at the Barcelona Restaurant affords the usual choices, as well as fine Mediterranean wines and liquors, and offers a tapas menu.
My wife and I were seated in the tiled sunny side porch, among murals of Mediterranean landscapes on pale, yellow plaster walls and large, arched windows. We began by ordering a glass each of light, sweet sangria ($12) and enjoyed a basket of warm olive-bread, which we swirled in a bowl of oil and garlic dipping sauce. By 6:30, the porch area was full, as patrons engaged in lively, friendly and festive dining.
The menu included a very colorful list of appetizers-a nice mix of Spanish and Italian preparations such as Mejillones Salteados (sauted green and black mussels), Caracoles (escargot) and Sopa de Almejas (sauted clams in garlic, olive oil and marinara sauce). Our choices were the Seafood Ravioli, large pasta pockets of lobster, shrimp and scallops in a light, pink sauce with garlic toast points ($11.95) and the Grilled Chorizo Sausage served over roasted peppers and topped with mozzarella cheese ($9.95). Each was an outstanding selection. Both were very tasty and surprisingly large servings.
As we sipped the chilled sangria, we reviewed the equally colorful salad menu, but passed on the Mediterranean favorites like Grilled Gambas (shrimp over mixed greens), the Salad Valencia (grilled filet of salmon over mixed greens and roasted red peppers in a raspberry vinaigrette) and Special Salad Barcelona (fried, golden, calamari over mescaline greens with lemon oil dressing). We opted, instead, for the Barcelona house salad included with all dinners.
The Barcelona Restaurant offers an extensive menu of chicken, seafood, steak, veal, lamb and pork dishes. Each is a unique, made-to-order, “well-worth-the-wait” Mediterranean preparation that attests to the culinary care and experience of Chef Perez. All portions are large and are complemented with plentiful, colorful arrays of vegetables and fresh garnishes.
Our well-seasoned informative server delivered two large white plates heaped with abundant servings of our main-course selections. At the arrival of both dishes, we knew we’d be sharing and leaving with take-home boxes. We also wanted to leave room for their specialty dessert.
We couldn’t decide who had made the more enjoyable and satisfying choice, but agreed we both had ordered wisely. My wife chose the Stuffed Shrimp, large, grilled shrimp stuffed with a delectable crab-meat filling ($21.95). It was served in a seasoned, garlic butter wine sauce with saffron rice and grilled julienne vegetables. I enjoyed the Pork Mediterranean, a plate of grilled pork tenderloin medallions topped with tomato, black olives and artichokes in a Mediterranean pesto cream sauce and served with a vegetable medley of peppers, broccoli, red and yellow zucchini and roasted red potatoes ($20.95).
At this point, our sangria glasses were empty, the remains of our meals had been boxed, and we sat back to listen to the description of the Tres Leche dessert cake ($5.95). Discretion, being an important part of dining out, prompted us to share a large, luscious slice of this house specialty. Tres Leche cake, literally oozing with sweetness and goodness, originated in Spain and is very popular in Mexico as well. The dessert is made fresh daily by Chef Perez and combines, (not surprisingly given the name), three types of milk: evaporated, condensed and whipped cream. It was the perfect finish to a delicious, Mediterranean meal and an enjoyable night out at the Barcelona Restaurant.
Total cost (excluding tip) was $82.75.
Barcelona Restaurant is open weekdays 4pm-10pm; Friday and Saturday 4pm-11pm; and Sunday 4pm-9pm. For more information call 438.1144 or visit www.barcelona-albany.com.
Frank W. Pidgeon is an educator/school administrator, freelance writer and winemaker who lives with his wife, Nicki, in Rotterdam.