La Fonda del Sol was one of the iconic NYC destination restaurants of the 1960s, often mentioned in the same breath as The Four Seasons (which is still around) and Forum of the Twelve Caesars (which isn’t). The restaurant closed in the early 1970s. Fans still mourn the loss of Alexander Girard’s striking design (see this fansite).
Now Patina Restaurant Group, which owns the rights (inherited from the old Restaurant Associates) wants to re-capture the magic. A new Fonda del Sol opened six weeks ago in the Met Life Building. Except for the name, it has little to do with its predecessor. Adam Tihany’s design could be just as opulent as Girard’s, but it’s his own, not a re-do. The menu, under Josh DeChellis, is Spanish, rather than Latin American.
The new Fonda was conceived before the recession. It is one of the most luxurious openings we’ve seen in quite a while. The large bi-level space offers a casual tapas restaurant facing Vanderbilt Avenue and an elegant formal dining room. The tapas space was totally empty on Saturday evening, except for a couple of people drinking at the bar. The location doesn’t lend itself to weekend walk-ins, but the staff claim they’ve been doing well on weekdays, with Grand Central just a half-step away. The dining room looked to be about 80% full at 9:00 p.m.
Reviewers will obsess over the clash between the luxurious space and the tanking economy. Gael Greene is the only active critic who dined at the old Fonda, and she’s smitten once again. In the Daily News, Restaurant Girl awarded four out of five stars. Those are the kinds of reviews La Fonda del Sol will need, as it is on the expensive side and could have trouble attracting a crowd without good word of mouth.
We liked nearly everything we had. The amuse-bouche (top left) was a thin slice of cured ham with a daikon radish. We then tried three tapas: the Potted Duckling and Pork ($11; above right), Tuna Tacos ($9.50; below left) and Veal Terrine Croquettas ($9; below right).
The potted duckling, resembling a pâté, was luxuriously rich; the tuna tacos with avocado and jalapeño pickled onion packed a flavor punch. The croquettas, however, were rather forgettable.
Suckling Pig ($28) was a masterpiece, with a constellation of unmentionable pig parts rolled up and covered in pig skin, served with smoked dates, almonds, and charred brussels sprouts.
We loved a side dish of spicy potatoes ($9; right), but a server ought to have told us that the pig already came with brussels sprouts, as we certainly didn’t need a separate side order of it ($7).
The after-dinner petits-fours were as impressive as nearly any restaurant we’ve been to in New York, especially as the entire box was left at our table (many places ask you to choose, then take the box away). We were obviously not going to finish anywhere near all of that, but it was an impressive selection.
The only real disappointment was the bread service. What is the point of offering two different kinds of rolls, when both are rock-hard? Our server was a bit wet behind the ears. When I asked for a wine list, she said, “You mean, by the bottle?” Hmm…what else would it be? The list could use a few more options below $50. I found an acceptable Spanish red at $38, but it didn’t have much company.
With judicious ordering, we managed to keep the bill to $143 before tax and tip. That’s not bad at all for a restaurant as elegant as this one. This is a restaurant we’ll be rooting for.
La Fonda del Sol (200 Park Avenue at 44th Street, Met Life Building, East Midtown)
[Note: Despite the Park Avenue address, the entrance to the restaurant is actually on Vanderbilt Avenue.]