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Jun 1, 2010 10:13 AM

Cichetteria 19, Rittenhouse Square

Just south of the Square on 19th is this relatively new place, tried it for the first time this weekend. They have some of the usual Ital-American stuff, the pasta, the pizza, but where they really shine is on the small plates. (Cichetti).

These plates are really the way people in Italy eat, especially in Venice. These are small portions of GREAT food, prepared in an authentic, careful way. This is not what you will get in a typical "Italian" restaurant in America, which is what makes it so good!

They have 5 plates for $19, and 3 plates for $12. We ordered 8 plates together, which was a good thing, because we were stuffed sharing them. They look small, but they are very filling, and very satisfying! Everything was quite different, and quite wonderful. We had, among other plates, the Baccala, caponata, crudo scallops (raw), roasted shrimp, and the highlight for me was the Broccoli Rabe with canelloni beans. Had a really unusual, wonderful, pan seared flavor. Yum!

The owner is from Venice, he says he was a gondolier but I suspect that may be an "exaggeration". (Why would anyone leave such a lucrative occupation?) But whoever's doing the cooking in the back is a great talent.

It's a fun place, and the food is terrific and reasonable. Highly recommended.

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  1. I agree, have been there and loved the cichetti and also some of the larger plates. Had the salt-baked bronzino once which was amazing, a neat change from the typical bronzino preparation.

      1. re: barryg

        Not bad at all. Moderate, the place was 3/4 full. Definitely able to carry on a conversation comfortably.

        1. re: menton1

          The crudo scallops were extraordinary. Never had anything like it. Great stuff.

      2. i wanted so badly to like this place since it's so convenient! unfortunately the food we ordered was borderline inedible- was it an off night? it was absolutely awful. we ordered three plates: broccoli rabe, eggplant with polenta, and salt cod. and the arancini appetizer. didnt finish anything. even the bread they brought out to start was soaked in olive oil and tasted gross.

        -broccoli rabe: probably the least offensive of the dishes- cant say anything good about it, but nothing too awful other than a lack of salt
        -eggplant: polenta was badly cooked- very mushy, unseasoned. the eggplant was not cooked long enough. it didnt taste good enough for us to try to finish the dish- and we both like eggplant. really just didnt taste like anything
        -salt cod: possibly the worst thing of the evening- tasted NOTHING like good bacalao- extremely fishy and i was nervous about eating it since it tasted as if it had gone bad.
        -arancini: ok, how hard is it to mess up fried risotto balls?? apparently not very- the version we had was totally soggy and the risotto was a gloopy gluey mess. and the balls themselves were greasy and not at all crispy. oil not hot enough? i dont know, and i dont really care

        overall very disappointing. yes it was inexpensive, but with so many great options, i wont be back anytime soon. the arugula was the best part of the meal. and if you have to go...smuggle some salt. or a sprig of thyme. or both.

        7 Replies
        1. re: InSearchOfTacos

          It seems like they definitely have a problem with consistency, which is a shame. My first meal there was great. My second? Definitely a lot of misfires, between many dishes on the menu not being available (because it was a Sunday, I was told) to some that just weren't what they should have been. Their pizza oven wasn't even working the 2nd time I was there, which was seriously disappointing as I really wanted to see how their pizza compared to what I'd enjoyed in Venice.

          It's a shame, because I'd love - LOVE - a place in Philly that was anywhere close to the cichetti/casual-dining experience of Venice. Simple, unassuming snack and light foods to be enjoyed with spritzes or decent, cheap Venetian wine. When Cichetteria 19 gets it right, they get it right, even if the cichetti is still pretty high end and fancy compared with actual Venetian cichetti. But they do seem to drop the ball in a lot of ways and I wonder how long this place can keep going at this rate.

          1. re: InSearchOfTacos

            What's the other great options for cichetti, Tacos?

            1. re: menton1

              i meant just great food options in general- not sure what to recommend if youre looking for italian small plates specifically. but for little nibbles, ive always loved tria. my favorite rittenhouse italian is salento on walnut. id also happily go to audrey claire on a weeknight for small plates- but on the weekends, the wait is impossible.

              have you been back to cichetteria19 recently- should i try to give it another chance?

              1. re: InSearchOfTacos

                I hear only good reports about it... definitely worth another shot IMHO.

                1. re: menton1

                  ok good to know- i will probably give it another try, i really want it to be good since it's a block from my apartment and would be the perfect dinner option. menton, what should i try again? i refuse to order the polenta, it was way too gloppy and awful.

                  ill report back on my findings...

                  1. re: InSearchOfTacos

                    Re: what to order-- see my original post on top.

                    1. re: InSearchOfTacos

                      If they have the salt-baked branzino, get it. Very good and different from the typical version/flavor every other Italian place in the city offers (just make sure it's properly filleted so you don't end up with salty skin on your plate!)

                      I had an amazing special there once of pasta with wild mushrooms, and generally enjoy their crudo. I do see they've upped the cicchetti prices a bit - it's now 5 for $25 instead of 5 for $19? And a few things that use to be on the cicchetti menu are now regular appetizers, like their excellent calamari (loved it but I don't know if I'd order the small plate of it for $12 instead of getting it as part of the cicchetti deal).

                      I really need to go back some time soon to see if they've corrected some previous missteps to let the good of what they do well shine.