Last Friday, Alan and I decided to put an end to our curiosity and visit Kitchen 919, the new Bearden restaurant where the venerable Orangery used to be. We are glad we did. Our verdict: The food was excellent. We had a great time. We are glad it is open. We think a few tweaks would significantly enhance the dining experience, but we recommend you check it out. You won’t regret it. Let me know if you agree with us.
Here’s our overall assessment. First, the pluses:
Food: Delicious. Our entrees were creative, beautiful and tantalizingly tasty. Alan had misoyaki glazed sea bass, and I had shrimp and a grits cake in andouille sausage cream sauce with a smoked red pepper puree. We loved both of them. And, of course, Alan was crazy about his dessert, red velvet cake, although, as you will see, it was a little unorthodox. Credit for the food goes to Carol Scott, a Cordon Bleu-educated Knoxville private chef known for her appearance on TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2009.
Conviviality: Fun! We saw more than a dozen folks we knew during our dinner there, making table hopping a great way to pass the time. The central Bearden location at 5448 Homberg Drive guarantees a good crowd of recognizable faces. The eatery is named after its location in the 37919 zip code area.
Management: In good hands. General Manager Roland Michaud, previously with the Ritz-Carlton, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Citico’s, is a consummate pro with a customer-focused philosophy. A friendly workaholic, he will strive to make Kitchen 919 the success his previous dining domains have been.
Chef Deron Little and wife Sheah, owner of Seasons Innovative Bar & Grille in Turkey Creek, and son Drake Little, a commercial real estate agent, acquired the old Orangery location, gutted the interior of the building and are the owners of Kitchen 919.
Price: High-ish, but not outrageous. Two entrees, one salad, one dessert, one bottle of Vouvray, a martini and a glass of cabernet: About $150 before tip.
There are, however, a few things that, in my opinion, could be improved upon.
Ambiance: It’s too darn loud in there! We could hardly hear one another across our small table. We recently noticed that Oliver Royale, a Market Square restaurant which used to have a similar noise issue, fixed the problem by putting foam on the ceiling. It’s much more pleasant in there now. Also, I think it’s too bright in Kitchen 919’s dining room. And I hate that we could see the bathroom signs from our table in the dining room.
Service: Our waiter was really friendly. But he was a little heavy-handed when trying (successfully) to up-sell us on our wine selection. Since we both ordered seafood, we picked out a pinot grigio on the menu, but he insisted that we try a more expensive Vouvray. We like Vouvray in general, so we agreed. The taste he gave us was good, so we said, “OK.” But then I had second thoughts. “You know, I’d like to also have a taste of the pinot grigio, if you don’t mind, just to be sure I like the Vouvray better.” Well, he did mind. He brought the pinot grigio tastings, but he said, “I’ve already rung in the Vouvray, and they’ve already pulled the bottle.” We caved and said we’d take the Vouvray. But, really? How big a problem would it have been to switch? The bottle had not been opened. (I actually liked the pinot grigio better, by the way.)
That being said, our overall experience was good. All new restaurants need a few adjustments. We will be back. See you there.
Funny story. Anyone who knows Steve, knows that his beverage of choice is Miller High Life. Well, Kitchen 919 didn’t have Miller High Life. So, Steve phoned a friend of his at Cherokee Distributing Company, which distributes the brand, and had a case delivered to the restaurant! Hey, the guy knows what he likes!