by Sam Gugino
While there are plenty of BYO restaurants in the Philadelphia area, quite a few with liquor licenses allow consumers to bring their own wine, usually with restrictions. For example, Fond, the restaurant I’m focusing on this week, allows wine brought in Tuesday through Thursday. Crow & the Pitcher, The Farm House, Neuf and others opt for Sunday.
Many restaurants charge a corkage fee. Fond charges $15 per bottle, Friday through Sunday. Some restaurants, like Fork allow you to BYO any day for a $15 corkage fee, but only if your wine is not on Fork’s wine list. (You should follow that dictum even if you aren’t so advised.) Not sure what wines a restaurant carries? Go to its web site or call. Only a few restaurants with full bars charge no corkage, such as Garces Trading Company.
Several web sites, like opentable.com, list restaurants that allow you to BYO under various criteria. However, it’s always best to check by calling the restaurant. And if a full-bar restaurant you’re planning to go to isn’t on any list, it doesn’t hurt to call anyway.
Though there is a small bar on your left, you are pretty much thrust right into the dining room as you enter Fond’s corner location in the white hot East Passyunk restaurant scene. Dark wooded floors, chairs and tables contrast with the pale yellow walls that are dotted with photos and some intriguing flower arrangements. Pendant light fixtures with exposed filament bulbs dangle from a pitch-black ceiling.
If your amuse bouche is as good as the one I had—a silky roasted wild mushroom soup — you may wind up asking for seconds in lieu of your appetizer, especially with the house-made olive bread (more like focaccia, really) and butter sprinkled with Maldon salt flakes.
Still, the varied starter selection is worth exploring. Don’t get grossed out by the idea of eating duck hearts (hey, it’s just another organ, like liver, right?). The skewered hearts are toothsome and served with a soothing tahini yogurt. The tart and tangy jicama, mango, Yuzu and onion relish does its best to bring to life the charred mackerel it is paired with. But though supremely fresh, the fish was just too bland to be revived.
A roasted cod entree, however, was excellent. Perfectly cooked and rich enough to stand up to a medium bodied red wine (see below), it was surrounded by a velvety vichyssoise sauce. Fond is justly famous for its pork belly, crispy on the outside, meaty inside and accompanied by Okinawan sweet potatoes, purple tubers that are a fixture in Hawaiian cuisine.
Save room for dessert, especially if it’s the malt chocolate ice cream with peanut brittle or the passion fruit and coconut crème brulee. Delicious French-press coffee was served with the respect it deserves, as was the rest of the meal.
Fond, 1537 South 11th St., 215-551-5000, fondphilly.com. Tuesday-Friday, 5:30-10PM; Saturday, 5-10PM; Sunday, 4-8PM. Appetizers, $12-$18. Entrees, $28-$30. Five course ($62) and seven course ($72) tasting menus. Reservations and all major credit cards accepted.
Washington wines have grown in quality, diversity and quantity in the past few decades. White wines benefit from a cooler climate than whites in California, which gives them higher acidity and lower alcohol. Riesling, for example, thrives here as in no other state save New York. Among the many available in Pennsylvania are two terrific bargains: Barnard Griffin Columbia Valley 2013 (Code: 37508, $8.99) and Hogue Columbia Valley 2014 (Code: 4422, $9.99).
Another cool climate white wine that does well in Washington is chenin blanc, a vastly underrated grape. The L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2014 (Code: 47287, $14.99) has such spot-on varietal character (chamomile, bees’ wax, lanolin) that I would have pegged it in a blind tasting as coming from the Loire Valley (spiritual home of chenin blanc).
Merlot has long been Washington’s strong suit in red wines, though syrah is the current darling. I particularly liked offerings of both from the Charles Smith winery: The Velvet Devil Merlot Columbia Valley 2013 (Code: 42713 $13.99) and the Boom Boom Syrah 2014 (Code: 49540 $16.99).
For something completely different, try Kiona Lemberger Estate Bottled Red Mountain Washington 2012 (Code: 47362 $13.99). Called Blaufrankish in Austria (and Limberger in Germany), Lemberger has been likened by some to the more full-bodied crus of Beaujolais. It’s light enough for many fish dishes and sufficiently firm to go with lighter meats.