after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Fond … Understatement of the Year!

with one comment

t says: g and I were looking for a BYO to have our Merry Christmas dinner together … but the usual suspects were not under consideration …  We had just recently gone to Cochon, we’ve done GTC to death, and Bibou was closed for the holidays … What to do?  What to do?  g was in charge.  She suggested Fond.  What’s Fond?  Fond is a restaurant tucked away in South Philly that has garnered much praise recently from Zagat and Philly Mag, but perhaps only a so-so review from LaBan.  To be honest, I wasn’t super-thrilled at first – it’s just so far away from where we live.  Would cabs for our return be easy to come by?  Would the food be worth it?  Well, by the time the date rolled around, I couldn’t come up with any other ideas and, to be quite honest, I was a little excited (it had been a long week).

December 2010, Thursday 7pm, Party of 2. We gave our cabbie the address, but he had no idea where it was – Passyunk’s slant throws everybody off.  Fortunately, the iPhone led the way.  We arrived 10 minutes early!

When we walked in, we were greeted by the hostess but were told that they might be running a little behind so that we’d have to find something to do for 20 minutes.  She did, however, say that we could go and grab a drink at Paradiso just a few doors down.  That sounded like a plan …

g says: having a drink before dinner is the kind of thing that i generally think of as only happening in the movies. it’s not something we do all that often, if ever (t is a lightweight and we love a byo anyway) but this was a celebratory meal, so i thought it might be the perfect time to class it up a little. when the hostess said that paradiso was only 3 doors down, i was a little surprised since i hadn’t noticed passing it on the way. it is the only restaurant that we had ever been to in the area (for d’s graduation celebration this past summer) and i felt comfortable walking into their place for a 20-minute visit since it was familiar territory. fond’s waiting area/foyer is super-tiny as well, so it really doesn’t make much sense to try and stand there waiting for your table while others are trying to enter and exit the restaurant.

so, off we went to paradiso. that place is actually pretty spacious, which i appreciate. it wasn’t terribly crowded, and we were able to sit right down at the bar. it’s a family-run establishment, the bartender for the evening being a pleasant young girl whose aunt donna made the complimentary pizzelles on the counter. t ordered a glass of rose, and i went for a glass of bubbly. we were joined at the bar by some regulars (read: old italian south philly men) whom all seemed to know each other. this strangely put me at ease; it was like their version of cheers, except they had cookies instead of beer nuts.

about 2 sips into our drinks, fond called t’s phone letting us know that our table was ready. he told the hostess that we had just received our drinks so we might be a little late. she said that was fine, or that we could just bring our drinks to dinner with us. interesting. my immediate reaction was something like, “wait, she -the hostess- said that we can walk out with their -paradiso’s- drinks? what do es she (nodding toward the bartender) have to say about that?” i was not about to be chased down passyunk in 3-inch heels and  30-degree weather by any angry paradisians. t asked the bartender, and she confirmed that fond and paradiso are indeed very friendly and would allow us to carry our glasses to dinner, as the staff at fond would bring them back at the end of the evening. an arrangement unlike anything i have ever heard of – very interesting, indeed.

we made it to fond without dropping anything (thank goodness) and were seated right away next to a friendly couple of guys who were finishing up. they had pork belly on their plates, and it smelled divine – t was hooked. it wasn’t uncomfortably packed in the dining room, but our waiter did come over to let us know that they would nudge our table over a bit once our neighboring party had finished to give us a little more elbow room. how thoughtful! though we really didn’t mind being so close to the pork belly aroma…

anyway, i ordered the yellowfin tuna crudo and the hanger steak with crispy polenta, both of which were so delicious. the tuna was chopped, mixed with jicama and pickled pineapple, and seasoned with curry and cilantro. it was light and refreshing, yet still complex enough for me to feel that i was eating a decadent hors d’ouevre.

fond’s hanger steak is the strong, silent type; an equally humble and satisfying plate. t reminded me when it came that i would have to compare it to the bibou version, which is my favorite in the city. this was excellent in its own way, completely different from bibou’s approach. this hanger steak was not marinated in wine, and its jus was very simple. no hit-you-in-the-face flavors here, just really lovely subtleties. it was more of a mom’s pot roast jus, which i happen to appreciate. i will say that they make the best polenta i have ever encountered. the texture was just fluffy enough, and the top perfectly crisp. the best bite of this dish was a combination of the steak and polenta, swirled around in some jus. they had passed the test of making something otherwise simple really shine – one of the two ways that restaurant food can impress me (the other being a dish so creative and well-conceived that i wish i had thought of it).

t says: Allow me to review my dishes …  First off, the foie gras was absolutely awesome.  Now, I don’t eat foie often, so please understand that I might not be the best foie critic (it’s not a cruelty-to-animals thing, rather, an it-doesn’t-taste-any-better-than-butter-and-tofu thing), but I have had it at Bibou (I think), O Ya, Talula’s Table (twice), and a few other places that are supposed to do it well … But this dish was different than those … Well, except O Ya.  Both O Ya and Fond attempted to marry their foie with dramatic “other” flavors … and to be honest, Fond’s was the better of the two, and also the best foie I’ve ever had.  So what’d they do?  They seared the foie beautifully (nice and dark on one side) and served it with some caramelized apple, a dollop of ricotta, some “pie crust” (puffed pastry-esque), and likely some other ingredients I couldn’t identify.  The end result far exceeded the sum of the parts – there was a symphony of flavors and textures that worked so well together that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how good it was despite being a somewhat simple idea (foie and apple pie!).  g had some, too, and she was less impressed than me, but of course, she’s not so keen on tofu-esque textures like foie.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the pork belly appeared.  That’s right – I ordered foie and pork belly in the same meal.  The waiter commented, “So, I guess we’re going for a light meal this evening?” – funny guy.  Back to the belly: it was ridiculous.  The top had a super-dense crust.  I suspect that they braised the pork belly, cut out a slab, and then deep fried the top (?maybe with a coating of sugar?) just before serving.  Of course, as I’ve said before, what the hell do I know about how they did it?  Neverthless, however they did it, it was the single best piece of pork belly I’ve ever had.  Better than Cochon.  Better than Morimoto.  Better than Talula’s.  That said, the dish as a whole just missed the title of the best pork belly dish I’ve ever had.  Morimoto wins for superb incorporation of “other” flavors, and Cochon’s garnishings felt like they added a lot more dimension than Fond’s Okinawan sweet potatoes – which were good, but really, pork belly doesn’t need more rich potato flavor, rather a little something to cut through the fat and reset the palate between bites of pig – maybe some veg or something zippy/zingy/sour/spicy/sweet – I don’t know.  But don’t get me wrong – I demolished the entire dish – and that was after eating a foie appetizer (I obviously did not go for a low-fat, low-calorie meal), so it’s pretty darn fantastic.  And actually – I’d even order this dish if I had to order again, just so I could taste the pork belly once more, which I’m not sure I would do for pork belly dishes elsewhere.

I think we may have had a sorbet sampler for dessert – I actually turned down some sort of super-deep chocolate desserts for fruit-based dessert!!  THAT says something about the rich-ness of the other foods I ate.  I remember the sorbets being good – I think blood orange and strawberry were two of the flavors we went for – I forget the third – maybe a chocolate sorbet (I was thinking it’d be lighter than like a chocolate bake/cake thing).  We’ll have to get at their dessert list the next time we go …

And now … back to your regularly schedule programming …

g says: our fond-love-fest, er dinner, was not without comic relief. about halfway through our meal, a table of 6 senior citizens was seated next to us. they were cute – it made t wonder if we would be like them when we are their age, going to dinner and talking much more loudly than necessary with friends, attempting to read the menu in dim lighting. they weren’t a terribly rowdy crew, and as i mentioned before, it wasn’t a totally cramped dining room, but WOW we had a lot of elderly butts in our faces. it seemed like someone from that table was up to use the restroom every few moments, shimmying by us, unaware of their behind hovering over our table, dangerously close to our glasses each time. t had to rescue our wine bottle from spillage on more than one occasion before we decided to shift our entire table over. this put us a bit closer to the table on our other side, a new party of 4 much closer to our age, so we hoped they understood.

certainly no butts-in-the-face ruined our evening, though, and we were able to have a good laugh. when we were ready to  head out, our hostess called us a cab. they said it would be 15 minutes. after about 30 minutes, the hostess called back and they said it would take up to 2 hours to get a cab out there. t started to worry. what if we couldn’t get back? walking was not an option, as we were far too south of south, and although we knew there was a subway stop nearby, it just didn’t seem like the best time to be figuring out the philly underground that late at night. t called a few more cab companies himself, offering “whoever gets here will get a BIG tip!”

as he made calls by the door and strategized with the hostess about how we could get home, i stayed seated at the table. our new neighbors to my right were 2 young couples with a few open bottles of wine. the guy seated directly next to me was pretty happy at this point, and wanted to make small talk – mostly about my handbag. he kept talking about how awesome it was and showing his wife, who kind of rolled her eyes, half trying to be polite to me and half embarrassed that her husband was so interested in it rather than their party’s conversation.  i kept my end of our conversation brief so as to let him get back to his friends, but this guy was not just friendly – he was drunk friendly, which in his case meant that talking to me/my handbag was more important than how many times his wife kicked him under the table.

finally, i was able to make a quick escape when we saw a cab drive up – which we jumped into immediately. turns out, it was not one of the 4 cab companies that t/the hostess called.  oops! sorry, cab dispatchers…

t says: Overall, the food was great, but the location kind of stinks.  There’s only one thing to do … we need to go to Bibou for a throwdown …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

9 January 2011 at 9:59pm

Posted in in Philadelphia, Restaurant Reviews

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. drb says: “…cookies instead of beer nuts.”



    14 January 2011 at 11:55am

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