East Passyunk Avenue has been a restaurant hot zone for a few years now, but the success so many places have enjoyed has skipped over the storefront at 1617. A couple of restaurants came and went, one lasting less than a month. And now a pair of 24-year-old chefs who live in the neighborhood, Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki, are trying yet again with their new restaurant, Fond.
Executive chef Styer has cooked at -Lacroix and Le Bec-Fin, where he refined his skills as a saucier and sous-chef. But the menu at Fond, which is built on French cooking techniques, shows flashes of inexperience. For example, a choice slice of halibut bathed in brown butter was paired incongruently with delicate sweet pea ravioli; the components were all done well but didn’t coalesce successfully. Other dishes were perfect in every way, like a skate special paired with shaved fennel, savory lentils, and a light orange–scented sauce. Prawlucki, the pastry chef, is a three-year veteran of Le Bec-Fin’s pastry kitchen. Here, she bakes the restaurant’s bread and applies her fine-dining mojo to the dressed-down BYOB. With her résumé, I expected more from the slightly soggy lemon crepes, and the chalky meringue that crowns the peach Pavlova. A third partner, Tory Keomanivong, handles the front of the house and comes from a four-year stint at Lacroix, where he served as captain. He has the right personality for hospitality, though at times you can see he’s adjusting to the smaller BYOB venue.
This incarnation of the space is its most polished yet. Some touches are both quirky and stylish, like the square glass vessels the corn risotto is served in, and the oversize candle-holders donated by Styer’s mom. “We were on a very tight budget; we couldn’t afford not to use them,” says the chef. Such offbeat details lend the charm and personality this space lacked before now. Fond should prove good enough to last as long as it keeps growing up with the neighborhood around it.