Tellers in the Loews Hotel

Tellers in the Loews Hotel
12th and Market streets
Credit cards accepted
Reservations a good idea&

One day in 1932, Philadelphians and the world were treated to the opening of a modern masterpiece. On that day, the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, simply known as PSFS, the oldest bank in the United States, opened its headquarters at the corner of 12th and Market streets. Designed by architect William Lescaze, the soaring skyscraper — a masterpiece of steel, granite and limestone — was truly awe-inspiring. Lescaze topped off the building with the letters PSFS lit by bright-pink neon.

During the 1950s, Philadelphia school children were given the opportunity to open a savings account with PSFS. I can still see my dark green, red and white plaid bankbook with my name clearly typed in deep black ink. Although we moved to the suburbs when I was 11, I still banked each week with PSFS. A few days before I went away to college, I closed my account and took along my "mad" money to my new life in the dorm.

PSFS merged with another bank in 1980, but the glorious building still stands. Thank goodness we have laws in this country that protect our architectural wonders. Several years ago, the Loews Corporation purchased the building and turned it into a hotel, complete with ballroom, meeting rooms, lounge and restaurant. The interior remains a marvelous art-deco masterpiece with dark wood, frosted glass and a circular bar.

The restaurant is appropriately called Tellers. I asked a friend who is a former chef to join me for dinner because I heard the menu had been revamped since Loews opened more than two years ago. I sipped a martini ($4) at the art-deco bar and chatted with the bartender. More than 30 varieties of martinis are just $4 from 5-7 p.m. There’s also a live DJ Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

My friend arrived and we were shown to a table along the comfortable banquette. Although it was a Monday, the restaurant was busy because Loews is a business, convention and tourist hotel. The menu is small by most restaurant standards — nine starters and 10 entr�es. It’s an interesting mix of safe, popular items. Prices are moderate considering we were dining in a hotel.

We received warm Parker House-type rolls and triangles of softened butter. The bread tasted homemade. Caesar salad ($6) was a deep white bowl filled with crisp romaine leaves, tossed in a homemade dressing and topped with extra Parmesan cheese, as my friend requested. The salad was served with a big mound of grated cheese. My friend wanted shavings of Parmesan. "No problem," said our waitress as she whisked away the salad. It returned to the table nicely done, brimming with a mountain of shaved cheese.

I was intrigued by the grilled asparagus and prosciutto salad ($7) because an antipasto of this type can be prepared in myriad ways. I was surprised to find about six pencil-thin, perfectly grilled asparagus, each spear wrapped in salty prosciutto and crisscrossed on the plate. They were served hot, the ham crispy from time spent under the broiler. Shavings of Parmesan topped the dish. I thought the appetizer was overpriced, considering local asparagus is in season now and the prosciutto was not top-quality.

Wines by the glass are moderately priced, too. All but one are either $6 or $7. I sipped an oaky, rich Geyser Peak Chardonnay ($7), which enhanced my fish dinner. There were several fish on the bill of fare, but I went for the halibut ($17) because it is a favorite with me. Halibut is a thick, meaty white-flesh fish that easily adapts to any number of herbs, spices or sauces. The chef pan-seared about 6 ounces of seasoned Pacific-coast halibut and placed it atop a big bed of steamed Chinese greens, which are among my favorite vegetables. They are akin to broccoli rabe but lack their bitterness. Crisp slices of lotus root were on top of the fish, which was bathed in a spicy coconut broth. We both thought the halibut was slightly overcooked, but it wasn’t dry.

Although an Asian-style salmon ($17) was on the menu, my friend ordered the salmon special ($18). It consisted of about 6 ounces of salmon filet that had been grilled and topped with a chopped salad of tomatoes, asparagus and avocado. The fish arrived over risotto, which lacked the creaminess of authentic risotto. To both of us, it tasted like al-dente rice. This fish, however, was perfectly cooked and retained its juiciness and texture.

Because I was seated on a banquette, I could not help but see what the businessman seated next to me was eating. "How’s the swordfish?" I asked him. I am not a swordfish fan, but our neighbor pronounced it "delicious and not overcooked." It was served with a warm baby-potato and asparagus salad. The fish ($18) was sauced with herb butter blended with the juice of Meyer lemons, which have less acid than Sunkist.

Tellers has changed since the hotel opened. The menu may be "safe," but the dishes are nicely done, the drinks well-priced and the service is excellent. Starters run $5-$8, entr�es $14-$22.

"This is a hotel," said my friend, the former chef. "They could charge $5 to $10 more for each entr�e. These are really good prices for nicely presented, good food."

Two tips of the toque to Tellers.