“Everyone knows I’m a very impatient person,” says Rich Cusack, “but I’m also very focused.” Fresh out of culinary school, he worked at a Philadelphia steak house where the chefs bet on which of the new hires would last longest.
“None of them picked me,” he says. “They looked at me and said I wouldn’t last a month.” It was a crummy job, but he stayed a year and a half, “just to prove a point.”
Cusack, who has worked for the great Georges Perrier and Daniel Boulud, is still proving points. There were naysayers when he and his wife, Christina, decided to reopen their intimate BYO, June, in Collingswood after their original location in Philly closed six months into the pandemic.
Cusack didn’t listen, and June, which opened in August (and made our Best New Restaurants list), is doing very well. No one in this 42-seat, window-lined dining room is looking for red-sauced spaghetti—not when there’s al dente cavatelli with heirloom tomatoes, roasted corn, crab, basil and creamy corn sauce, or ricotta ravioli floating in a smooth acorn-squash soup laced with black truffle. A nest of chitarra noodles, a complement to tender braised rabbit leg, shines with herbaceous rabbit-vermouth sauce. Parisian gnocchi (not potato dumplings, but the more ethereal ones made from pâte à choux) come in a crock covered in velvety Camembert mornay and breadcrumbs fried in melted bone marrow.
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Cusack’s superb sauces elevated many of the dishes I tried, from pastas to the coral-colored, bisque-like lobster sauce lending luxurious shellfish flavor to halibut roasted in brown butter. The salmon quenelle (a rarely seen poached and baked fish mousse) was produced here with nonpareil airiness. Silky orange beurre blanc brightened steelhead trout baked in fig leaves. Chewy rye berries and roasted butternut squash elaborated a chicken ballotine with a heady black-truffled chicken jus.
Cusack’s rich, winey Bordelaise sauce takes up to three days to make. It deepens braised beef cheeks on buttery pommes purée, as well as a perfectly seared strip steak and escargots tangled with (on my visits) trumpet mushrooms in a nifty spiral-shaped dish. A set of these plates was given to Cusack by one of his mentors, Pierre Calmels, who closed his famed Philly BYO, Bibou, during the pandemic. Calmels himself ran the esteemed kitchen at Le Bec-Fin for Georges Perrier for many years before setting out on his own. There’s a lovely echo in the passing down of those dishes.
Another item handed down: the silver-plated duck press Cusack inherited from a customer who passed away. The contraption is the centerpiece of a three-course, $170 prix-fixe dinner showcasing an entire duck. It must be ordered in advance and provides plenty of food for two or tasting portions for four. A chilled aperitif opens the experience, followed by duck confit with peppery greens and a warm confit potato salad with mustardy mayo. Served with the salad is an ineffably smooth foie gras parfait topped with glistening purple figs.
For the entrée, the staff wheels out the press on a cart and presents the roasted duck, legs removed. They carve the breasts and sear them tableside in butter. While the skin crisps, the carcass is broken down and loaded into the press, which crushes the bones and sends a cascade of juices, drippings and blood down a spout into a cruet. Once the breasts are removed from the pan to rest, the liquid umami is added, along with duck stock, and the glossy, mahogany sauce comes together with a few whisks. The breasts are sliced and plated with seasonally changing accompaniments—roasted root vegetables studded with cherries, sautéed chanterelles and haricots vert when I had it—and the whole plate is tied together by that deeply savory sauce, underpinned by the umami and minerality coaxed from the press.
The duck prix-fixe includes a classic dessert, crêpes suzette, which cannot be ordered à la carte. It brings another moment of drama. The crêpes, thin as handkerchiefs and folded into triangles, are flambéed tableside with Grand Marnier, then topped with vanilla ice cream. Equally impressive were bittersweet chocolate mousse with a lid of caramel and jewel-like figs, and lush vanilla panna cotta with fresh raspberries and brown-sugar strudel crumbs.
There were just a few shortcomings. The roasted sweetbreads should have been crisper. The meat in the pâté en croute was underseasoned, and the pastry underbaked. The room was loud. But overall, June is a very strong restaurant. Cusack is reconsidering his early assessment of himself. “I guess maybe I am patient?” he says. “I do wait for what I want.”Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:French
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $16–$20; entrées, $29–$56; desserts, $9–$10
- Ambience:Elegant, with a festive (often loud) dinner-party vibe
- Service:Warm and polished, if spread a bit thin
- Wine list:BYO