The handsome new restaurant at the corner of 19th and Locust Streets is not named for its location. Already, lots of folks are looking for F15teen on, well, sure, 15th Street. Although the formal address is 1900 Locust St., the entrance is on 19th Street, which can cause more confusion, too. Perseverance, however, makes the experience worthwhile.
It’s a generously sized establishment. The dining room and its bar are on the north side of the first floor, a lounge reached by a glam curving hall is on the south side. There are two connected outdoor dining areas with fireplaces, and upstairs are rooms for private parties and a second, clubby bar.
Yes, the 15 does refer to the jersey number worn by part-owner and Cardinal center fielder Jim Edmonds, but this is no sports restaurant. The ground floor area tastefully displays no memorabilia, and unlike Edmonds’ summer employer, there is no overpriced souvenir stand. There’s a focus on red meat and classic side dishes like mashed potatoes and creamed corn, but the first courses and desserts are extremely contemporary, especially the latter.
For full disclosure, we point out that the restaurant’s general manager, John McGuire, is the son of long-time friend and colleague of the same name. The younger McGuire came to F15teen from the Adam’s Mark, bringing chef Tim McLaughlin with him.
There’s a very traditional carpaccio, if you understand that these days truffle oil has become part and parcel of the dish (not that we’re complaining), alongside a handful of nicely bitter greens dressed in a light vinaigrette. Instead of a shrimp cocktail, this menu offers what it calls "crispy shrimp and crab" (shown right), a flavor-filled cake sitting on a wonderfully sharp pineapple and mango chutney-like relish. The onion soup, sweet from the long cooking of the vegetable, and very different from the old standard, isn’t topped with cheese and stuck under a grill; rather it’s sided with a frico, the crispy disc made by frying shreds of cheese until they melt and crisp up.
One night’s soup du jour was chicken, a rich, peppery broth with generous pieces of pulled white meat and a couple of avocado chunks, as well. Chopped salad, which has become a standard in recent years, really isn’t. It’s a generous handful of tender mixed greens with small dice of tart green apple, an occasional shaving of fresh fennel and three crouton-sized cubes of bacon. A graceful smear of a cheesy cream sits alongside. There appeared to be minimal if any dressing on the remainder of the salad; is the cream intended to be picked up with each forkful? We suspect that everyone who orders the chopped salad for the first time has to remark on its deeply inaccurate name, if not to the server, then to the rest of the table.
A fried chorizo dumpling leaves toasted ravioli far behind in a flavor race, and the wild mushroom ravioli is wildly tasty, too, particularly savory as the temperature drops outside.
Steaks and chops, yes. Beef and pork only in this section of the menu, no lamb, which is interesting. We tried a rib eye, a pork chop and some skirt steak. This is properly high-quality red meat. The rib eye was better trimmed than most around town, with lots of succulent meat properly cooked. Skirt steak, served sliced across the grain, as it should be, was chewier, as it always is, but a good smaller serving for a lighter appetite at eight ounces. Pork chop lovers, though, should be lining up for this double-doned babe, tender and juicy, well-seasoned and absolutely a joy.
Each arrived with a few vegetables as a garnish, steamed al dente, perhaps a miniature carrot, some green beans and a baby beet, but there are sides available. We were particularly impressed with one of the cheesiest macaroni and cheese renditions we’ve tasted in a long time, the pasta slightly chewy, the whole thing designed to make Kraft give up the business. Creamy corn (their phrase) is sweet with crunchy corn kernels rather than the chewed-up stuff one often sees.
The red meats are offered with five sauces, and each diner can choose two. A table, however, is offered a sampling of all five, and our advice is to accept the offer. There’s a house-made 15 steak sauce, roasted garlic, blue cheese, sweet and sour, and black pepper. The 15 steak sauce is sort of like A-1; more exciting are the roasted garlic, for those who revel in that, and the black pepper, which has Asian notes from some hoisin sauce that binds the pepper. Even for a non-pepper fancier, it was excellent.
In the non-meat part of the menu, there are options like half a roast chicken, short ribs over noodles, the ubiquitous salmon and roast cod with wild mushrooms. The cod and mushrooms, with a little gruyere cheese, went together well, the fish not overcooked and the mushrooms’ flavor interacting with the fish with good results.
McGuire serves as his own sommelier; the list is good, with a pleasing number of moderately priced wines to go with a handful of extremely pricey labels. The per-glass selection is nice, but could display a wider range. But McGuire knows his list; for example, when we asked about a French Rhone, he pointed out that the wine was made primarily of Grenache grapes and not the Syrah that predominates in the area. Therefore, as he noted, it would be lighter in body, and it was, but it was a pleasant accompaniment to the cod. A German Riesling also was a highly satisfactory choice.
No cheesecake, no creme brulee, no tiramisu, we’re happy to report. The most traditional item on the list was a brownie sundae with a warm brownie, nicely gooey fudge, vanilla ice cream–and an espresso cup of hot chocolate with Bailey’s Irish Cream and thick whipped cream on the side. Warm Fuji apple crisp was topped with gooey butter cake-flavored ice cream, tasty but needing apples (or seasoning) that are more tart to contrast with the very, very sweet ice cream. A trio of ice cream sandwiches shows off pairings like ginger snaps with caramel ice cream, oatmeal cookies with a cardamom-rich pumpkin ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies with more of gooey butter cake ice cream.
But the joyously goofy star of the menu was a mocha milkshake that came with berries and Cocoa Puffs. Yes, it sounds silly. But the combination of the shake with the crunchiness of the cereal pieces was great, like bites of ice cream cones. Toss in a few raspberries and blueberries, and it was enough to cause giggles of joy.
The dining room is quietly handsome, although rather loud, with its high ceilings and plenty of hard surfaces. And service is good, for the most part, although why servers remove the bread and butter before entrees arrive is a question that is beyond us. But on one weeknight visit, the kitchen had problems with food temperature. Every vegetable garnish that night was merely tepid. A side dish arrived blazing hot more than five minutes after the entrees and their coolish vegetables were served, and the plate of sauces took long enough to bring a reminder to the server. On our other visit, the temperature problems weren’t apparent.
1900 Locust St.
Dinner Tues.-Sat., Lunch Tues.-Fri., Brunch Sunday, Late-night menu, Tues.-Sat.
Credit Cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Good for first floor
Smoking: None in restaurant
Entree Range: $12-$32