I've been reading the Chowhound boards for ages and found it to be a great resource, so I finally signed up to write my first post to report on my recent experience at Ladder 15. While reading about different places in Philadelphia (I'm relatively new to the city), I'd come across others mentioning their love for chef David Ansill, so I was curious to try out his food at Ladder 15's 4-course prix fixe Tuesday dinner menu ($20).
1st course: I had the Shrimp and watermelon salsa. It was fine, but nothing spectacular. The flavours were refreshing, some hotness.
2nd course: Cold sesame noodles. Sesame sauce was tasty & I liked how it was put together: rice vermicelli, sprouts, white and black sesame seeds. It was a very small portion, roughly one bite's worth.
3rd course: I had the Sambal Crab. The "sauce" (it wasn't really a liquid but I'm not sure what to call it) was flavourful with chopped chili peppers, garlic but the crab itself was not so good. The flesh of the crab was flavourless and kind of dry, and had the texture of having been frozen, not fresh. This was served with plain steamed white rice, which was a bit dry, as if it had been sitting around a bit, but this was not a big deal -- I appreciated the fact that there was rice at all, since the portions had been so small throughout that I'd been worried I'd go hungry.
I also tried a bite of the Cheese Ravioli, which was tasty but seemed mushy and overcooked.
Dessert: Chocolate fondant with berries. Chocolate fondant was chocolatey without being overly sweet, which was nice with the berries. However, it was dry and sandy in texture -- I was expecting it to be silkier.
For $20 for 4 courses, I don't necessarily expect big portions and stellar preparation. I might have been curious to go back once more to see what else Ansill could cook up (especially with something other than seafood) but there were serious problems with the service and management that made for a generally bad experience.
We were brought the wrong food to our table, TWICE. My own order was fine, but others in my party were simply brought something different from what had been ordered. One ordered a (vegetarian) tomato/mozzarella/pesto flatbread off the regular menu and was brought a (non-vegetarian) crab flatbread instead. Another friend ordered Cheese Ravioli for the prix fixe dinner, and got Sambal Crab. On top of that, when the bill came, we were charged for the more expensive Crab Flatbread that we did not ask for, and that was sent back. This billing error was eventually corrected when we brought it to their attention, but the server didn't seem very concerned about the mistakes at all.
Our server had even come back earlier (before any food came) to verify part of our order (though not those parts). I really think the waitstaff should be writing down orders so that they have a better chance of getting it right. When a mistake is made, they should ensure they don't charge for the more expensive thing that you didn't want and didn't eat.
Service was generally on the inattentive/inconsiderate side. I got strangely lukewarm water when I asked for water without ice. There was an empty table nearby, but we were seated right next to where the waitstaff were working so they bumped repeatedly into my chair. I don't mind little hiccups if the place is busy (and it was), but some consideration would be nice: offer us another table, move the table 5 inches over, or just express concern and apologize for the inconvenience.
Also, when the bill came, we had a bit of a surprise: we had been charged an 18% gratuity with no warning. It's not written in fine print on the menu, and the server certainly hadn't told us about it. Moreover, the 18% was assessed on the subtotal AFTER taxes. Is this customary in Philadelphia? To me, this is a big no-no. I understand gratuities as being assessed on the service attached to the food and drinks they bring out to us. Charging us 18% on the after-tax amount just seems wrong.
If a gratuity is going to be pre-charged, I expect a) to be notified in advance of the policy, b) that it's assessed on what we actually consume (food and drink) and NOT taxes, and hopefully c) that the service is reasonably acceptable. The service was horrible, and we were charged 18% on the post-tax subtotal without warning (for a party of 5). When I asked about this, the server was unconcerned and standoffish. I wasn't even complaining at the time -- I just suggested that they put the policy on their menu so that customers would know about it. We got the impression that the service was intentionally bad because they knew they were going to get 18% no matter what. I guess if you've decided you're not aiming to give service worthy of 20+% in gratuity, you might as well give your worst.
Normally, service is not a huge deal to me; my main focus is food. I notice when the service is great and I'm not bothered when it's not. But when the service is bad enough to negatively influence the entire meal and make my companions unhappy, it's a problem. I would've been fine with service that was just okay, but as it is, I feel bad for having suggested Ladder 15 at all.