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Dec 5, 2006 10:13 PM

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

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!!