Chef de cuisine of XIX, Marc Plessis, experiments with original ingredients little-known in Philadelphia from atop the Park Hyatt on Broad Street. Notably ingenious menu additions include crosne, a baby root vegetable that resembles seaweed bulbs, New Zealand crab and the illustrious Blue Foot chicken. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a circular raw bar, highlighted by luminous pearls draped overhead. While the oversized strands were a little gaudy for our tastes, the raw bar was smartly placed and beautifully presented, so much so that we couldn’t resist ordering the seafood platter, complete with clams, sweet Newport cup oysters, lobster tail, curried crab salad, blue prawns and marinated mussels, among other goodies. The crab salad was the ultimate favorite, combining the red crab with crisp apples and an unmistakable hint of curry flavor.
The ingredients continued to surprise us in our next course, a roasted baby beet salad ($12) that came highly recommended by our server, Thomas. The combination of ingredients was bizarre; fresh purple and golden beets were somewhat awkwardly paired with fried pickled nectarine and Singing Brook cheese. While we admired the creativity and country fair-like nostalgia that came with the nectarines, we would have been satisfied with the beets, Marcona almonds and micro greens alone.
Thomas chose our next course for us, a baby scallop dish complete with the most interesting ingredient of the evening, the cresne. The firm, crisp texture of the root was a delightful accompaniment to the sweet and succulent scallops, dressed in a rich and creamy sauce. Needless to say, our faith in XIX’s ingenuity was restored.
Already feeling rather full, the house-made pierogies ($16) managed to revive our appetites. Four pan-fried pockets filled with sweet butternut squash puree were deliciously seasoned by the fried leaves of sage and crunchy spiced pecans artfully scattered over the plate. The dish was a welcome, flavorful twist on a Philly favorite and one that we will certainly return to try again, as the fillings change often.
The focus of our meal was the roasted Blue Foot chicken with lobster mushrooms, autumn squash, fingerling potatoes and baby turnips. This aristocratic (read: expensive) variety of chicken was originally bred in Canada to rival the French Poulet de Bresse. Often it is served with the gray-blue feet still on, to ensure diners of its authenticity. Our main course was thankfully footless, but its perfectly tender breast meat seasoned with thyme guaranteed that it was the real deal.
Other unique items on the menu included bison tenderloin with mustard greens and creamed sun chokes ($24) and wahoo or striped marlin sashimi ($12). While the dessert selection was narrow, we enjoyed our champagne-chocolate mousse with brandied cherries, another one of Thomas’s recommendations.
The staff was lovely; amidst a crowd of middle-aged, presumably rather wealthy Philadelphians, we felt very welcome and taken care of. For those of you out there already panicking over graduation plans, beg Mom and Dad to take you 19 floors above the city to celebrate your hard-earned accomplishment. Don’t be intimidated by the overwhelmingly beige French Renaissance décor and the fancy upholstered chairs. Judging by Chef Plessis’s eagerness to try new things, XIX seems to be shying away from its stuffy stigma.