FOOD & DRINK > RESTAURANT REVIEWS

Cichetteria 19

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Feb. 11, 2010

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A complete menu revamp puts the concept of little plates — “cicchetti” in Italian — as well as carpaccio, entrees and pastas on tap at Cichetteria 19.

Photo by Amanda Thurlow

Can a restaurant that served mediocre food four months ago offer splendid, tasty, fresh dishes just by changing its menu?

As my Pennsylvania Dutch friends say, “You bet.”

In October, Cousin Carl and I dined at the bar at Divino. We found the food lacking in flavor and originality. We chatted with the owner, Venetian-born Andrea Luca Rossi, who told us he was going to refurbish the place and offer “cicchetti,” Italian for “little plates,” along with carpaccio, entrees and pasta.

Since Carl is in Florida and Edward, the invalid, is housebound, I asked my friend and computer consultant Kevin to join me.

A block from Rittenhouse Square, Cichetteria 19 will draw anyone who appreciates fine, authentic, fresh Italian fare. Talented chef Shiah Blau is in charge of the kitchen.

The front room has a bar, television and several high-top tables. The back room is the dining area. The lighting was soft, but I could actually see the food on my plate. A banquette runs the length of one wall, while wooded tables are laid with cloth napkins and pretty glassware and china.

Happy hour was still in effect with a number of wines for $5 a glass. Kevin and I sipped a rich Chianti and discussed the menu.

The Italian little plates were one for $5, three for $12 or five for $19. The choices were dazzling. Just before our cicchetti arrived, our server brought us hot, homemade bread along with a small cruet of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, a small dish of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and another with hot pepper flakes.

Small, wild, roasted shrimp arrived with tangy caper berries bathed in a light sauce of garlic and lemon juice. I only buy wild American shrimp because the farm-raised tastes like iodine. Good to see fine chefs use wild shrimp, as well.

Several slices of fresh fish prepared ceviche may speak of South America, but the glistening catch was served with shaved fennel and artichokes in a citrus reduction. The flavors were spot-on.

I’ve sampled arancini at a few restaurants. The Sicilian rice ball we gobbled down here was stuffed with sweet sausage and sat next to a pool of pesto made with fragrant basil and spicy arugula. It was piping-hot and crisp outside, a little creamy inside.

We wanted a contrast with the meatballs. The dry-aged prime beef was juicy and full of flavor. A rich sauce made with spicy peppers and tomatoes was the perfect foil. A long, roasted red hot pepper was on the plate.

We finished with the eggplant rolletini. The eggplant was not a bit bitter and was served with rabiola, fresh cheese and a sun-dried tomato pesto.

The beef carpaccio ($11) was splendid. Razor-thin slices of the aforementioned beef were drizzled with a homemade caper aioli. A small nest of arugula was on the plate, dressed in a light vinaigrette with a hint of truffle essence and topped with shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The garlic flavor of the aioli enhanced the meat beautifully.

You may wonder, as I did, what a hamburger was doing on the menu at an Italian restaurant. The only thing I knew for certain was the one Kevin and I shared ($14) was the finest I’ve eaten in the city. It’s called “polpetta di hamburger.”

The same dry-aged beef in the meatball and carpaccio was fashioned into a round about an inch-and-a-half thick. It was well-seasoned and seared medium-rare. A generous dollop of Gorgonzola dulce was spread on top. The latter was one fine choice.

We were told the homemade roll was made with pizza dough. It was crisp and hot from the oven. Hand-cut fries were laced with roasted leeks and finished with truffle essence. They were a little limp, but we enjoyed the flavor.

The prices are moderate considering the establishment is steps from Rittenhouse Square. I’ve placed it at the top of my list.

Three tips of the toque to Cichetteria 19.

Cichetteria 19
267 S. 19th St.
215-545-0441
www.c19philly.com

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Antonella said... on Feb 11, 2010 at 02:45PM

“Phyllis,
Your review is spot-on. This place is great! Not only is the food made with great ingredients, but it's cooked to perfection. I was recently in Venice, and this place is straight from Italy. The bar offers a really cozy-chic atmosphere too. Something that's been lacking in Philly for a long time. It's the perfect place to go with friends for some drinks or for a yummy dinner.”

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2. rebecca said... on Feb 12, 2010 at 09:57AM

“This place is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner spot, my boyfriend and I come here at least once a week. New name and new menu is even ore fantastic than the last one. And the servers are real genuine sweet people, unlike the general chill servers at other establishments exude. Go here for a relaxed atmosphere with incredible food. Really incredible food...!

Oh and be prepared to meet the owner or the chef because you are treated like family once you have a table...”

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3. hariharan said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 12:50AM

“best
cool
hot”

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4. mena said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:57AM

“I went there with a friend prior to the official opening and it was WONDERFUL. The owner came over to our table and explained the Cichetteria "little plates" as well as translated the differnt quates painted on the walls. over all it was a terrific experience. FYI discount gift certificates are available on restaurant.com.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Feb 19, 2010 at 06:55PM

“I loved the food, wine, ambiance, it was authentic Italian experience...they also have a upcoming Indian night...We booked reservation on line at C19philly.com”

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6. Anurag said... on Feb 22, 2010 at 09:08PM

“I went there for a quick bite and ended up talking to the owner for hours. The place was decorated really nice, service was fast and very friendly, and the food was to die for (considering I live near NYC, let's just say I'm very picky about food and I give this dining establishment much kudos). And if you're lucky, you'll get a chance to meet with the owner too!”

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7. David said... on Mar 15, 2010 at 12:46PM

“My wife and I ate there recently and LOVED the experience. We are from upstate NY and will be heading back down in a couple of months and will be sure to hit the place again. Try to sit in the back half for a quieter meal.”

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8. Jacqueline said... on Oct 30, 2010 at 07:19AM

“Went last night for dinner, food was good, not great. Contrary to some other posts I found there to be no ambiance really. Our server, our runner, and even the owner of the place walked by our empty wine glasses many many times and never offered us more wine. For a $13 glass of wine you would think the want the money we were willing to pay! We had our appetizer for about 3 minutes before our entrees came. The owner did walk around alot and it was nice to see his interest in guests but he almost never left people in peace to enjoy their meals. I couldn't even bare to stay for dessert. My husband and I dine out quite a bit and know the level of service and experience Philadelphia restaurants have to offer and this just missed the mark for us.”

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9. Anonymous said... on May 11, 2011 at 08:57PM

“I dislked this place. It was very crowed noisey, the service was terrible and the food was alright. I cost my friend and I $44 to share a pizza,salad and 2 bottles of water. Way over rated!”

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