Entries in Josh DeChellis (3)


The Payoff: La Fonda del Sol and Txikito

We were half-right, half-wrong about Frank Bruni’s double-review of La Fonda del Sol and Txikito. The latter restaurant got the expected singleton:

Across many meals here I had wonderfully memorable food (suckling pig as fine as any in New York beyond Eleven Madison Park’s); ridiculous food (a rib-eye so excessively fatty and undercooked it was almost inedible); food that fell somewhere in between (the crosscut spareribs, with too much bone and too little pork); and food that never tasted the same twice. The meatballs in a shellfish broth could be hard and dull or tender and nuanced. It depended on the night.

Although the prices on individual items are low, the bill can climb surprisingly high, especially considering the plainness and tightness of the quarters.

But to our surprise, La Fonda got the deuce. It’s not that we doubted La Fonda deserved two stars (it clearly does), but that we didn’t expect Bruni to see it that way. With two-star restaurants being a rarity these days, we had figured that any place he deemed worthy of the deuce would at least get the courtesy of having a review to itself. But Bruni’s review patterns were made to be broken:

Although the menu has weak spots, with a few too many dishes not from the heart but from a marketing plan, [Chef Josh DeChellis’s] cooking here feels less forced and more exuberant than it did at any of the other restaurants where I tried it.

More important, it reflects a steady, precise hand. A tried-and-true combination of octopus with potato seemed fresh again, because the kitchen got precisely the tenderness it wanted from the octopus and the firmness it sought in the potato, so that each was a textural mirror and mimic of the other.

At lunchtime, when so many restaurants put on their B if not C games, La Fonda served me a fillet of wild striped bass so vividly white in color and melting in consistency it could have been a snowdrift. The fish got a thrillingly salty, nutty charge — and some nice crunch — from the pumpkinseeds scattered over it.

We and Eater thought that Bruni would award a single star to both places. On our hypothetical one-dollar bets, we win $2 for Txikito and lose $1 on La Fonda, for a net gain of $1.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $127.50   $148.67
Gain/Loss +1.00   +1.00
Total $128.50   $149.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 58–26

Rolling the Dice: La Fonda del Sol and Txikito

The Line: We missed BruniBetting last week with the flu, but for the record our bet would have been the same as Eater’s: no stars for Charles. Oddly, we find ourselves nearly always in agreement with Eater these days. We realize that’s boring, but there’s no point in disagreeing for its own sake, especially where imaginary dough is on the line. Anyhow, back to business.

Tomorrow, Frank gives us a Spanish twofer, taking a fly on La Fonda del Sol and Txikito. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

La Fonda del Sol
Zero Stars: 10 - 1
One Star: 3-1 √√
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 25-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

Zero Stars: 7-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 500-1
Four Stars: 20,000-1

The Skinny: Eater gives a good explanation why both of these restaurants will get the singleton, but we have an even better one. In Bruniland, the line between two stars and one is the line between good and mediocre, between important and humdrum, between destination and also-ran. Though one star is supposed to mean “good,” in Bruni’s world it almost never does.

Two-star reviews have been extremely scarce this year. So we figure that if Bruni thought that either of these places merited the deuce, he would let it have a review all to itself. As best we can recall, Bruni has never awarded more than one star in a double review if the Times had never reviewed the restaurant before—as is the case with both of these establishments.

For the record, we really liked La Fonda del Sol, but the other critics haven’t been as wild for it as we were.

The Bet: The year of the one-star restaurant continues. We are betting that Frank Bruni will award one star to both La Fonda del Sol and Txikito.


La Fonda del Sol

Note: This is a review under chef Josh DeChellis, who left the restaurant in May 2011. The new chef is Christopher DeLuna.


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.]

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **½