First thing's first: XIX just oozes class. From the low lighting to the $1,500 imported chairs to the sweeping view of Philadelphia's skyline, XIX is trying to make a reputation as the city's swankiest new downtown restaurant.
Perched on the 19th floor of the Park Hyatt on the corner of Broad and Walnut, the domed dining room features giant pearls hanging from the ceiling and an open bakery with the pastry chef displaying new creations. The menu matches the d‚cor, with each dish combining quality ingredients in original and unexpected ways.
XIX's appetizers are true highlights of the meal: jumbo lump crab cakes ($14) with reduced pepper sauce and shrimp paste to holding buttery chunks of jumbo crab meat together. Served with a sweet but spicy tomato pepper sauce and a tarragon-dill sauce, the crab cakes yielded well to these stronger flavors.
The warm white asparagus ($10) was gussied up enough to make a deceptively simple dish (asparagus over crumbled hard boiled eggs) into a more subtle incarnation. XIX also prides itself as having a better grilled octopus ($12) than cross-town rival Waterworks - but the jury is still out. What XIX's octopus lacks in original flavor, in makes up for in the pungency of its balsamic vinegar marinade and crispy texture.
With such a strong beginning, it's disappointing to see a restaurant like XIX lag on its middle leg. The squash ravioli ($20) was an interesting autumnal take on an Italian staple: traditional ingredients like pesto and pine nuts with the hearty filling of butternut squash. While definitely worth a try, the squash makes for an unnecessarily heavy and dense addition to an otherwise light dish. The melted pork shoulder ($26) is bathed in a rosemary sauce. However, accompanied with cabbage in heavy butter cream, the dish was too rich and thick by the third bite.
XIX regains focus for dessert. The cheesecake ($9) is accompanied by a tart and sweet prickly pear sauce on top of a handmade graham cracker crust. The coffee chocolate cream ($9) was a layer of chocolate espresso and vanilla gelatin, on top of a hazelnut cookie, with a dollop of handmade coffee sherbet on the side.
With its thoughtful and adventurous ingredient combinations, XIX largely succeeds where other fancy restaurants have failed. Only when XIX gets carried away with flavors that are (dare I say) too innovative does the menu fall behind. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.