Helmed by a trio of experienced restaurateurs, Fond classes up East Passyunk Ave.
If Fond, one of the newest shoots to pop out of the fertile soil on East Passyunk’s burgeoning restaurant row, were applying for a job, its resume would certainly earn it an interview.
Le Bec Fin, sous chef. Lacroix, sous chef. Le Bec Fin, executive pastry chef. Lacroix, captain. Culinary Institute of America. That’s a sampling of the qualifications shared by partners Lee Styer, executive chef; Jessie Prawlucki, pastry chef and Tory Keomanivong, in the front of the house. It’s enough fine dining experience to not only sauce several brace of quail, but to ensure it’s done with impeccable panache.
But South Philly isn’t Rittenhouse Square or Walnut Street. Might this venture be, as they say in the world of HR, a tad overqualified?
Refreshingly, the answer is no. Instead, Fond is another impressive demonstration (see: Bibou) of how Center City talent can flourish in the neighborhood BYOB format.
The setting emphasizes an informal camaraderie, a far cry from George Perrier’s gilded palace. Photos of the three partners, hanging out, cooking food, culled from their scrapbooks and laptops, line the room’s warm yellow walls.
Regardless of the principals’ experience in Perrier’s domain, the concise menu at Fond reads broadly American. With the bulk of the entrees clustered just above the $20 mark, there’s no ground for sticker shock here. Plus, what it promised flowed out of the kitchen with near flawless execution.
A trio of appetizers showcased an eye for attractive presentation and a nose for deft flavor combinations. A punchy cinnamon gastrique enlivened three crispy yet tender veal sweetbreads, while a slaw of Asian pears delivered a hint of crunch. The richness from a sculpted mound of chicken liver mousse was nicely balanced by the acidity of crisp house-made refrigerator pickles.
Entrees were just as impressive. In a technique borrowed from Perrier at Le Bec Fin, Styer cooks his chicken breast in the oven on the bone, with the whole carcass. After the breast cooks through 80 percent of the way, he debones it then tosses it in a pan with butter to crisp up the skin. This execution, applied to an air-cooled bird from Canada’s Geanone Farm, ensured a tender breast and a soundly brittle exterior. The piperade of green pepper and onion added the welcome snap, both in texture and in flavor, that was becoming a pleasant routine.
Grilled asparagus was a step short from firm when served under a soft-cooked egg as an appetizer. (Blame the fall asparagus and check back next spring.) But the sins of the asparagus were less evident when sitting atop a beef strip loin, perfectly cooked to medium rare. Combined with Bordelaise sauce and gorgonzola cheese, this plate delivered a richness appropriate for the most expensive item on the menu (at $26). The only misstep was an oddly flaky charred red onion, denuded of any flavor. Where this touch was supposed to fit in the picture, I’m still not sure.
In these pig-crazy times, the New American menu without pork belly is a rare one. Luckily for Fond, theirs—cured, braised overnight, then seared—was one of the better renditions I’ve tasted, hitting the right balance between crisp skin and toothsome interior. Okinawan sweet potatoes, grown in Hawaii, added a sweetness that was not cloying, but filled with unexpected depth.
All the while, attentive yet unobtrusive service, well-versed in the intricacies of the menu, kept our meal moving at a relaxing pace through the final course.
Too often, desserts are the weak link in Philly BYOBs. With a pastry chef in the ownership group, that’s not an issue here. Asked to choose her favorite child, Prawlucki pointed us toward her pineapple and quince crumble. Topped with a sweet yet lactic vanilla bean crème fraiche, it hit the mark. But it paled in comparison to the passionfruit crepes, the most visually striking plate to land on our table. The ripe fruit folded into a velvety crepe was a good start. The carmelized bananas upped the ante. Rounded out with a large spoonful of coconut sorbet and a few dabs of dark chocolate ganache, the combined effect had us questioning Prawlucki’s loyalties.
Mistaken attachments aside, Prawlucki and crew aced the interview. Fond got the job. And I’m looking forward to sitting in on the one-year review. ■