XIX (no, it has nothing to do with the Superbowl despite the Roman numerals) is located on the 19th floor of the Bellevue building and currently is one of the few dining spots with a sweeping skyline view of the city. There are two rooms, each appointed with original decorative plaster and a grand dome, but the Café is where the dinner special is served. It also hosts one of the most spectacular outdoor public balconies in Philadelphia.
There's nothing like escaping the dirt and grit of the city, rising above it all and observing traffic from a perch that makes the daily grind of our streets more like a Matchbox playset.
With the entrance of the $30 three-course dinner in the XIX Café, you can have the spectacular view and enjoy a sampler of salads, choice of four entrees, plus a dessert bar that could sink the Titanic. Tightening your budget belt never felt so good, especially if you hit Happy Hour first, which, happily, is 5 to 7 p.m. seven days a week and serves up a mighty fine martini for $5.50.
The dinner offerings change daily, but you won't lack for choices at the salad buffet that includes a platter of sausages, cheeses and enough vegetables to easily get your five-a-day in one meal.
My tasters and I enjoyed fresh mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and a Caesar salad with dressing as it should be - redolent with anchovies.
We also found the red bliss potatoes a perfect mix with a light dressing and a touch of fresh dill. A blend of green and white asparagus was the only salad that provoked criticism - and that from one of my tasters who grew up in the Baden region of Germany, where they grow lots of this stuff and honor its seasonal emergence.
She noted that unlike the crunchy pieces in this salad, perfect white asparagus should be cooked to a point where it is completely tender with no crunch, yet it spews out juice with each bite. For the rest of us, it passed American muster.
Entrees also change, but there's a always a nice mix of four choices that include a fish of the day and a vegetarian option.
We sampled the Grilled Flatbread Pizza with chicken-apple sausage, spinach and mozzarella. While it might be too much for one entree, sharing slices was perfect. And the chef does mean flatbread: It's almost crackerlike in its thinness, which is fine by me.
The hit of the evening was, surprisingly, Housemade Pierogies stuffed with sheep's milk ricotta and served with fava beans, wild mushrooms and ramps. What a way to herald springtime vegetables! The dough was light as air and the tangy ricotta filling a nice contrast to the spring vegetables. The fish of the day also was highly rated, although we got varying reports from the waiters as to what exactly the fish was. One said grouper, another cod and yet another halibut. I actually thought I was eating snapper. Let's just say the fish of the day was a firm, white fish, perfectly cooked and accompanied by a refreshing sauce garnished with tomatoes and other vegetables.
However, with the recent interest in sustainablity of our fish supply, it's crucial to know what exactly is on the menu as some diners may prefer not to purchase over-fished species.
The Flat Iron Steak (the trendy new cut of meat off the chuck) was perfectly cooked. My biggest complaint of the evening is that the accompanying sauce was over-salted, but the lightly steamed fiddlehead ferns and sauteed mushrooms went a long way to make up for it.
The meal included soda and iced tea, and the mother-to-be in my party appreciated the refreshing peach overtones and the elegant silver-spoon service.
But, for those who were imbibing, the wine list here has some interesting and affordable choices. One of my favorites is the 2005 Gruner Veltliner Obere Steigen Hugo Trasental. Priced at $9 a glass (or share a $40 bottle), you can leisurely sip as you watch the sunset from your aerial view.
The dessert bar is over-the-top. In theory, the Café deal is a perfect venue for a pre-theater or orchestra meal, however, the caveat is that once you lay eyes on the dessert bar you might be tempted to skip the performance and pack on the pounds instead.
While we tried to sample all, it was much too Herculean a task. Favorites included a rich dark chocolate and espresso mousse, which contrasted with a lighter lemon and strawberry mousse. The pistachio torte was singled out for its subtle texture and flavor. An assortment of cookies from an elegant Madeleine to a hearty oatmeal also made choosing difficult.
And, did I mention the view? *