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Nineteen at the Bellevue--Tale of the Half-eaten Scallop

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This is a bit of an old review, because I ate at Nineteen in mid-September. I wanted to write about it but got too busy. Then the ridiculous dinner we had there came up in conversation this past weekend, and I felt compelled to finally write a review.

I was visiting Phila. (my hometown) to celebrate something, and planned a dinner on a Friday with my sister and a friend who like me, was visiting from L.A. Based on the rec of my dad and some reviews I read, I chose Nineteen for the occasion.

My dad had raved about the dining room, and told me to request a window table. I did so when reserving, then did so again when I confirmed. I also asked the Ritz-Carlton concierge to call and put in the request, which she did. When we arrived, the hostess told us it was not possible to honor my request because things were "too chaotic." I thought that sounded absurd. And given the number of window tables--all taken--versus the number of other occupied tables (few), unless every person requested the window, they just didn't put one aside for us. Unfortunately, while we hoped a non-window table would be nice, ours was weird. The tables are set up in kind of a circular arrangement, and we were on the interior of the circle. Half our table (and hence my friend) were awash in bright light, while my sister on the other side was in the dark. The lighting over me was somewhere in between. A very bizarre effect.

We sat and waited and waited (hoping for at least water and bread) for a waiter to come over and greet us, take our order, etc. Finally someone told us he'd be right with us, but then another 15 min or so went by. Our waiter did not actually greet us, but simply approached and asked what we would like to order. (I get better service in a diner, and his abrupt nature was noticed by all three of us.) Because the markup on California wines was steep, I decided to order a wine from elsewhere. Because my knowledge is mostly limited to Cal. wines, I asked some questions, but the waiter had little info., and mostly gave condescending answers. For ex., describing what a sauvignon blanc was, instead of how it was. (I felt perhaps the syndrome of young-ish women eating together had afflicted us. Never happens when I am with a man, but with other women, sometimes.)

We asked for the sommelier, but were told he was not there (one person said he was in France, another said he just had the night off). We took a stab in the dark for our first bottle (a sauv blanc), which was fine though way too cold. For our second bottle, a helpful waiter came by and suggested a bottle of Pinot that the restaurant was selling for cost + $10. We enjoyed that bottle.

Now on to the food. I cannot recall the appetizers of my sister and friend, but they were very good. I ordered the scallop appetizer --3 lovely scallops served over a cauliflower puree. It looked delicious, but when I cut into the scallop and took a bite of it (dipped into the puree), I realized the puree was not in the slightest bit warm. I would even go so far to say it was cold. I eventually got the waiter's attention, and I asked if perhaps I was mistaken and this was not a warm dish. He said it definitely was supposed to be, and took it away. My sister and friend were nearly done with their dishes when my scallop dish reappeared. I noticed with some degree of shock that there were not 3 scallops this time, but 2 and a half. Wow. I flagged someone down, explained that given scallops only come in full circles, they must have reheated the scallops I sent back. He took it away without saying a word. Then another man (the manager?) came over and said, in a somewhat harsh tone, "What is the matter now?" Ignoring his tone, I explained that it appeared the kitchen had just taken the scallops off the top , re-made the puree, and then put the scallops back on top. He replied, "That is what they would have done, yes." Our jaws dropped. I told him that you just don't reheat scallops. (Isn't this common knowledge? yikes)

Finally on try #3 I got the appetizer I ordered--20 min after it first arrived, and long after everyone else had finished eating. It was very good, btw.

Just when we thought the dinner had nowhere to go but up, the fire alarm began going off. We were told by servers to stay put--eventually it would be turned off. The alarm was also accompanied by a automated warning that ran every couple of minutes. The alarm stayed on for about 30 min. At this point, all we could do was laugh.

Two of the entrees were delicious -- I think I had striped bass and my friend the lamb. The other entree, another fish dish, was clearly not prepared the normal way, because it had been recommended by the waiter and described as flavorful (various indian spices were listed on the menu) yet it was extremely bland--in fact, my sister commented the preparation "tasted like milk" and after a bite, I concurred. My sister pushed it aside and shared mine. Eventually they took it away.

We then enjoyed a delicious dessert. Unfortunately, I forget what it was.

The only adjustment to our bill was to take the scallops and uneaten entree off the bill -- or at least that is what we were told. When we got the bill, the scallops were still on there, and we had to send the bill back.

Given the comedy of errors, were it not for the price point and the fact that it was a special occasion, I would probably laugh more when thinking about it. I love Philadelphia and am proud of its restaurant scene. I was trying to show that off to a first-time visitor and obviously chose badly.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this comedy of disorganization with us, and with a sense of humor yet. Maybe we should have a contest of biggest mess-ups we have encountered in the Philly restaurant scene?

    Yes, reheated scallops is certainly priceless. And, no shame either.

    1. Ouch. Boy, it's a darn shame there aren't other high-quality restaurants in Philadelphia we can visit instead . . .

      1. Geez! Sorry to hear this story. The fact that you didn't get the table you asked for despite being assured of it three distinct times would be enough to put me off my dinner. I found the bar at 19 to be agreeable enough, the fries were good. They must train the servers the same way regarding wine, though: I also asked about a particular bottle and instead of getting their opinion of whether it was any good, I got an explanation of where it comes from.

        1. For Hardart - You're joking about there not being other high-quality restaurants in Philadelphia, aren't you? I sure hope so.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Beulah

            Of course. That's what all these restaurants have to remember: they're not the only option. Not overall, not in any sub-category.

          2. wow. if one cared enough, this would be a fantastic thread to print out and mail to the restaurant's management. words are powerful - next nice meal i plan, this place will certainly not be on my list for consideration!!

            1. I went to Nineteen a few weeks ago and found the place to be beautiful. We only went to the bar and had a drink. I was able to peak into the dining room, which was really very nice.

              The downfall of the visit was with our drinks. I ordered a Grey Goose Cosmo that fell short, shockingly short, of a full drink. It literally looked as though someone took 3-4 sips out of it. My friend got there late and ordered the same drink....same thing...about a 1/2 inch+ from the rim. Pretty bad. We said something and the waitress blamed it on the size of the glass. Here's a hint....then get the proper size glasses if you are going to short change the customer.

              The atmosphere is wonderful, though I am not sure if that will bring me back....unless I just don't order anything in a martini glass.

              Oh yeah, and my boyfriend's beer glass was really dirty. Filthy.....fingerprints galore....

              1. Does anyone like Nineteen? I am taking my Father out for lunch tomorrow for his birthday and I cancelled Matyson reservations because they just took off the lamb entree and they don't even have a steak entree, only sandwich. I now made reservations for Moshulu. I'm not sure if it's going to be worth it though and the menu at Nineteen looks good and I would like to go but after this post I'm not sure and definitely don't want bad service on a special afternoon. Any thoughts?

                9 Replies
                1. re: Tonyjlive

                  I've been to Nineteen twice for dinner, and once for drinks at the bar. Overall, I like it, though mostly for the atmosphere. When we reserved our first visit, we too requested a window seat, and were told it could not be guaranteed. We didn't end up with one either time, but I was fine with the views from the tables we got. There doesn't seem to be a clearly marked spot where customers are greeted, so both times we kind of wandered over to the dining room and waited a while for someone to approach us--very confusing.

                  On the first visit, we weren't asked about cocktails until maybe the third approach and after much time had passed, which I though was odd. They were out of the wine we wanted, but the sommelier came over and recommended a good and very inexpensive substitute. They were also out of the foie gras appetizer. I had the crabcake instead, which was not good--bland taste and texture. My fiance's grilled octopus was fantastic, though, the best octopus we've had in the city so far. He also had a winner with his main course, the lamb chops. Mine was the lobster and short rib, which was half OK--lobster was fluffy and sweet, but the short rib was mushy and uninteresting. Dessert was the deconstructed carrot cake, which they recommended. Unfortunately, it's drowned in an overly-sweet carrot sauce; if the sauce was not as sweet and there was much less of it, it would be much better, I think.

                  The pace of the service on our second visit was improved. The wine we wanted was available. My father was very happy with the octopus, lamb chops and orange-chocolate cake. The sturgeon that my fiance had could have used a more exciting preparation. I chose three appetizers for my meal--squash soup, pork bellies, and foie gras. The soup was wonderfully spiced; pork bellies were a little overcooked, but the condiments made it great. I wish the foie gras had been warm and the french toast had been less crispy, but it was still tasty. The cheesecake was okay, but the prickly pear sauce that came with it had a strange, slightly metallic taste.

                  The cheese plate I had at the bar featured standards like Vermont Cheddar, Humbolt Fog, etc. served in large portions with a compote pairing for each. A good value, I thought. I should add that all of the cocktails I've had at Nineteen have been full servings.

                  1. re: gina

                    Actually, like you I was not guaranteed a window seat -- I was told the request was noted. Just wanted to clarify. Your comment re the confusion upon your arrival rings true with us as well. We walked right past what I guess is the hostess station and were pretty much scolded by the female hostesses, one of whom said, "Excuse me?!" as if we were trespassing. Given they were standing next to an open kitchen that is on your right as you approach the restaurant, I have no idea why they would think that is an obvious place to stop. At the very least, they should consider a more welcoming opening!

                  2. re: Tonyjlive

                    Moshulu vs Matyson? Run to the phone and get your reservation back for Matyson.

                    If you must have meat go to the Capital Grille.

                    1. re: joluvscards

                      Or even better for meat (and everything else), Barclay Prime.

                      1. re: joluvscards

                        Glad to hear the Matyson raves. Going there a week from Monday with my family. Any recommendations?

                        1. re: meganinlosfeliz

                          I went a few weeks ago. My report is at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/346089

                          Enjoy!

                          1. re: meganinlosfeliz

                            Tough to say, the menu is constantly changing. Get the tasting menu if it appeals to you.

                            Regular favs are
                            For apps - quail, poached lobster, foie gras. Sometimes they have a salad with fingerlings that is excellent.

                            Entrees - steak frites is my sigs fav. I like the pork chops with apple and spaetzle. Scallops are always excellent as are the fishes. Everyone loves the chicken over mashed.

                            For dessert - don't waste the calories on ice cream which is always good but not as spectactular as Sonia's homemade desserts. Go for any of the tarts or the bananas foster shortbread which is heavenly. The coconut cream pie is excellent too.

                            Have a great time!

                        2. re: Tonyjlive

                          I went for lunch about 9 months ago, and then to a hospitality event with wine and cocktails this summer.
                          I agree with gina that it's hard to figure out where to go when you get there, but the 3 rooms are all beautifully decorated. I found lunch to be excellent! The food was very good and the servers were knowledgeable and unpretentious. My only complaint was they took way too long between courses, even though the room was not full.
                          It's hard to comment on an event, as people usually break out their best when it's others in the industry. That being said- they took butlered hors d'ouevres to a new level. Octopus with fingerling potatoes, Tuna sashimi, diced beets with goat cheese, gruyere tarts.... all were beautifully presented and absolutely amazing.

                          I would pick XIX over Moshulu 10 times out of 10. Actually, I'd pick most places over Moshulu but that's a story for another thread.

                          1. re: jessicheese

                            There was an article in Key to Philly (Bill Curry's new free newspaper) a few months ago that they were offering a 3 course price fixe $35. meal Mon-Wed nights. I had it on my calendar and called yesterday. They woman almost laughed when I asked. Apparantly it no longer hapopens. She said they do "price fixe" BRUNCH but that's only PF. Everything else is A la carte.

                            Steve R

                        3. I booked for Moshulu after reading Laban's book and the restaurant receiving 3 bells. I then wanted to switch to Nineteen but after reading the reviews and opinions on here decided not to. Figured it would be a good place to take my parents but we ended up cancelling that just because I got nervous and couldn't bring myself to it. Anyway we ended up snacking at the RTM and then Apamate which is in my neighborhood. I got a spicy chorizo pepito and my Mother got the cured pork loin bocata. Both were good and accompanied by a very tasty aioli. We also shared a number of tapas. The most notable being rib eye in a gorgonzola sauce. We also got the calamari tapas which came with carmalized onions. The calamari was a bit chewy but very tasty. And we got a mushroom dish as well. The lite lunch was finished with the churros clasico which are 3 churros accompanied by a chocolate dipping sauce. These have been raved about in the past by others, I found the churros average at best but when dipped in the delicious chocolate they made up for it. Overall it was a good meal and a welcome addition in my opinion to the neighborhood. The gentleman said they are working on a takeout menu, the website is not yet up and running either.

                          1. I’m Giorgio Arcamone, the new manager at XIX at the Bellevue. First of all, I apologize for the overall poor experience that meganinlosfeliz had. On your next trip to Philadelphia Megan, I hope that you will contact me. I will be happy to host a re-do dinner at XIX. I promise to greet you, escort you to a seat by the window, and introduce you to our Chef de Cuisine Marc de Plessis. We will ensure that you have a delightful experience. To others who cared enough about XIX to share your thoughts please know that we are working very hard to ensure that every diner has an exceptional experience at XIX. We are emphasizing wine knowledge for our staff, addressing the host’s station dilemma and smoothing out service-related concerns.I certainly hope all Chowhounds and their friends will give us the opportunity to prove that we have heard your concerns, have taken them to heart and are doing everything we can to make dining at XIX the four-star experience you’d expect.

                            Warm Regards,

                            Giorgio Arcamone

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: giorgio

                              Thank you for responding to the concerns expressed on this board. After initially reading them, I had totally crossed XIX off my list. However, it is nice to know that the restaurant cares about its customers and I at least will put it back on my list of places to try.

                              1. re: giorgio

                                THanks for post Giorgio:

                                Are there any plans to re-introduce the mid week price menu so that we local CH's who are not on "business accounts" but appreciate good food and atmosphere can try it? I had hoped to visit for my birthday this week but when told that everything is now al la carte ("except Sunday Brunch"), we chose another place.

                                Steve R

                                1. re: giorgio

                                  Giorgio, you have convinced me! We always go out with friends in January to celebrate two birthdays - mine and the wife of our good friend - and I had made a reservation at XIX. After reading some of the comments here, we had considered canceling it. Now we won't; we'll be there!

                                2. I too am very impressed by the manager's response. It is so important that restaurant managers care about the treatment of their customers. I often remark that the truly great ones find ways to salvage an evening for customers (or regain the business after) even when a meal had gone very wrong.

                                  I most definitely will contact Giorgio in the future (unfortunately it may be a few mos. before I can try dinner again as my holiday plans in Phila. are short and dinners are already set) and of course will write a report of my experience. However, as luck would have it, I will be at the Bellevue for afternoon tea on Tuesday so perhaps I can meet Giorgio in person then.

                                  Also, thanks for everyone's feedback. It definitely provides encouragement to keep sharing my experiences.

                                  1. Has anyone been back here recently?