With our “Hall Pass” securely tucked into our wallets and our wives sipping frozen cocktails in St. Maarten, Gerry, John and I were about to finish off our day with a visit to Fond, a highly regarded BYOB at 1617 E. Passyunk Ave. in the heart of South Philly. We had just finished watching the Phillies lose another game at Citizens Bank Park. Gerry and John were staying over for the evening at the Bella Vista B & B and we had just showered and changed clothes in preparation for our much-anticipated reservation at Fond. During their pre-dinner cigar John asked if mediocre service would put a damper on a meal where the food and ambience were both first-rate. We finally agreed that it might not have too much affect as long as the service was adequate while other factors were top-notch. Ironically, we were only about an hour from changing our opinions, not because we ran into poor service at Fond but rather the opposite; we were shown emphatically just how much GREAT service can add to the overall dining experience.
This would be Steve, our server at Fond. I had read somewhere that he was recently named the Top Server in Philadelphia. He reluctantly confirmed that he had indeed been singled out for that high praise. After two hours of watching him perform great feats of customer service, the three of us concurred with whomever made that selection. Steve was professional, extremely knowledgable and exuded a sense of pride in himself and his restaurant. Later, I will mention one more trait that sets Steve apart from his compatriots in the industry.
As usual, we had some very nice wines with us to serve as appropriate beverages for our meal. Gerry provided the 2005 Los Astrales Astrales Christina, Ribera del Duero, Spain. This was a big, bold Spanish red rated 97 by the Wine Advocate and not often seen as there were only 150 cases produced. Intense flavors of leather, licorice and blackberry fill the palate and linger long after the swallow. Made from 100% Tempranillo, this was my favorite wine of the evening. John chipped in with a 2003 Arrowood, Sonoma County, Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of dark fruit, well-balanced with soft tannins and a medium finish. Perhaps just a nuance of mint. Went well with several of our dishes. My contribution was the 2007 Phillips Hill, Oppenlander Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, CA. Lots of black cherry fruit and earthiness in this smooth Pinot Noir. Nice lingering finish; a nice wine.
Narrowing your choices from the menu at Fond is no easy task. Chef Lee Styer (just back from his marriage and honeymoon to Pastry Chef Jessie Prawlucki) puts forth more than a few exotic offerings that will tempt your palate. Steve explained that their was one small course of octopus remaining so we shared this between the three of us. The perfectly grilled octopus was served with Spanish rice, chorizo and mussels and the presentation was beautiful.
John was delighted to find the Escargot on the menu. The delicate snails were served with hearts of palm and fennel in a mint pesto sauce. His silence while devouring his appetizer was proof enough that he was quite happy with his choice.
I, too, could not resist the Foie Gras but I had mine seared with rhubarb, lemon-ricotta and almonds. This tender French delicacy was cooked to perfection and an excellent start to the meal. Two different ways to serve this dish and both Gerry and I were pleased with our choices.
For our entrees, Gerry left the menu and went with one of the evening specials. He settled on the Roast Quail stuffed with, what else, foie gras. The quail was cooked nicely and the sauce was a perfect marriage with the delicate bird.
John thought long and hard before making his choice. He went with the Harpoon Caught Swordfish, served with gold beets, radish salad and lemon grass sauce. I can’t vouch for the harpoon as the weapon that captured this fish but I can vouch for the fact that it was cooked to perfection and that John was absolutely thrilled with the rich flavors of the entree.
I had thought about the swordfish. I had not considered the quail. My eyes kept returning to the Pork Loin and that’s what I finally decided on. It was a fine choice as the meat was tender and juicy. It was served with roasted red peppers and arugula and the dish was plentiful. All three of us were content and happy with both the great food and superior service.
I had mentioned earlier that our server, Steve possessed one other quality that made him stand out from others. He has an uncanny knack of knowing each customer quickly. By that I mean, he is able to almost instantly know who he can joke with, who he must be serious with and just exactly how far he can go. This may seem like not much of a big deal but to me, it makes all the difference in the world. It was obvious he felt comfortable enough with us to offer his personal opinions of each dish and even trade barbs with us. It was like being waited on by a good friend rather than a stranger and I think I speak for both Gerry and John when I say he played a big role in making our dining experience at Fond a memorable one.
I had read so much before we got to Fond about the dessert “brownie” that I was quite disappointed to find there were none on this Thursday evening. John went with the Triple Sorbet of tropical ices with a couple of waffle cookies and he found it a nice ending to his meal.
Gerry’s dessert was picture perfect but I can’t remember what it was except that it had a fruit filling with a tart and some creme fraiche. I also remember that he liked it a lot.
With the much-anticipated brownie not available I went with the Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, peanut brittle, chocolate crumble and peanut butter ganache. It was almost good enough to make me forgive the absence of the brownie.
Our dinner at Fond was absolutely wonderful. Chef Styer is a marvelous chef and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. Seating is limited to 34 hungry foodies on any given night so make sure you make reservations early.
Steve had suggested that there was an outside chance we might find one of those elusive brownies up the street at Belle Cakery, if they were still open. We lucked out and they were open and although they had no brownies, John and I were able to pool our remaining cash and pay the women there to have their picture taken with Gerry so that in years to come he can look back and pretend he actually did something with his “hall pass”. Thank you, ladies, our money was well spent and we appreciate your sacrifice.