I have wanted to review Will BYOB ever since it opened during the dog days of summer but the windows were open on brutally hot nights, so I made a note to wait until the weather cooled down.
Will is the newest addition to East Passyunk Avenue and joins a list of some of my favorite restaurants. Bring your best bottle of wine and enjoy Chef Christopher Kearse’s joy of French fare, which he tweaks in his kitchen laboratory.
The décor is simple with green walls, a few mirrors, black tables and chairs set with linen napkins. The acoustics and lighting were perfect during our visit, which is a plus these days.
The winter menu is in full swing. Kearse uses local, seasonal ingredients and keeps the menu focused. Slightly warm French bread arrived with a small dish of softened herb butter. It’s these touches that contribute to a preview of a fine meal.
Two large shrimp, heads intact, ($14) were gloriously flavorful napped with a naturally reduced sauce. Kearse’s sauces are big, bold and rich in flavor but never overwhelm a dish. The texture is light and enhancing.
I asked our server about the artichoke appetizer ($13), and she explained it as a modern twist on a French classic vegetable stew. Kearse used baby artichokes that were sliced in half and braised just right. Even the outer leaves were tender and served as a surprising foil for the vegetables that kept the artichokes company on the plate.
Colorful heirloom carrots are the new Brussels sprouts. Kearse had a fine hand here. There were small, deep orange and yellow carrots and an almost deep purple-red, long, thin strip,which looked like radicchio but imparted a toothy crunch. Two tiny, and I mean tiny, sweet red whole onions were marvelous in flavor and texture. I never ate anything like them. Our server described them as small balls that pop in your mouth oozing a flavorful liquid. They were cold, so I assume they could have been frozen with liquid nitrogen. Still, the intriguing balance of flavors, colors, textures and ingredients made this a memorable dish.
Scallops from the Jersey Shore ($26) are small in size, but have a slightly sweet flavor that I prefer to their Maine cousins. Three scallops were seared yet still translucent inside. I particularly liked the flavor of the golden crust on top of each mollusk. Some cauliflower was roasted in the oven and included with my dinner. But the foam, which served as a base for the scallops, intrigued my taste buds. Chefs like to experiment with ingredients, packing them into stainless steel canisters equipped with nozzles which turn them into light airy foam. This one was creamy, as if a chef took a seafood mousse and made it lighter.
If there was a true star of the evening it was the crescent duck ($27), which our server described as “a meat-driven plate.” It could also have been called duck three ways.
A fat duck leg was prepared confit, sitting in its tasty, juicy fat until it was gently roasted. The breast meat was hearty, juicy and packed with flavor. It also was very tender and cut easily with a butter knife. Some of the meat was ground and formed into a sausage which would have made a tasty base for a duck lasagna. This dish was the most satisfying as our previous courses were so much lighter. Edward said he would have liked some vegetables with his diner, like turned potatoes roasted in duck fat.
One dessert jumped out from the menu. I have not savored a financier since I was last in Paris. This is a cake in the banker’s style, which French business people can pick up and eat on their way to work. Will’s version ($8) consisted of a small baton of pistachio cake served with a dollop of tarragon ice cream. I thought the cake was a bit on the dry side, but enjoyed the savory use of herbs in the ice cream.
Will BYOB is a fine addition to East Passyunk Avenue. I think the portions were small (except for the duck), the scallop entrée was too monochromatic but the service was flawless.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Will BYOB.
1911 E. Passyunk Ave.
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Chef/proprietor Christopher Kearse has a will, but we aren’t just talking about his 28-seat East Passyunk Crossing-based Will BYOB, 1911 E. Passyunk Ave.