New York City: La Fonda del Sol

When the original La Fonda del Sol opened in 1961, in the glass-sheathed Time-Life Building, it was quite possibly the most purely joyous restaurant in New York City. It always seemed sunny—appropriately enough, since its name means The Inn of the Sun—no matter what the weather was like outside. This was due in part to its menu of vivid, full-flavored Mexican and Latin-American dishes, food that, half a century ago, was practically unheard of in an upscale Midtown restaurant. More than that, though, the place was defined by its bright, pop-flavored interior, the work of celebrated textile and graphic designer Alexander Girard—complete with folk-art sunbursts and the names of dishes and drinks in an olio of outsized graphics on the wall.

In late January, the Patina Restaurant Group opened a new La Fonda del Sol (the first one closed in 1971) in the MetLife Building adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. They claim the original as an inspiration, and the ubiquitous and multitalented Adam Tihany has subtly worked some references to Girard’s design—sun imagery, food names etched in glass—into his interiors for the new place. Beyond that, it’s a whole new thing.

To begin with, the food—with the exception of tuna tacos offered in the big, lively tapas bar at the front of the restaurant, and some raw fish tiraditos on the regular menu—is Spanish, not Latin American. Columbian-born chef Josh DeChellis, late of Sumile and BarFry, has constructed a menu of Spanish dishes both traditional and innovative. Not everything works quite yet. Cochinillo—suckling pig—was flavorful enough, but it lacked the crackling-crisp mahogany skin that makes the dish such a delight in Spain. Patatas bravas were just nicely roasted potatoes with a ramekin of hot sauce on the side; the dish needs a second sauce, the traditional allioli, which is what marries the elements together. Other things are a delight, such as little wisps of perfect Iberian ham from acorn-fed pigs, tender octopus in spicy pimentón sauce served over slices of slightly undercooked potatoes, and very good herb-crusted braised pork cheeks with white beans flecked with parsnip and sausage. A side of garbanzo beans with spinach and pimentón brought back fond memories of a dozen tascas, or little Andalusian tapas bars. The new La Fonda del Sol may not be quite as sunny as its predecessor, but you’ll still leave with a bit of a glow.

La Fonda del Sol MetLife Building, 44th St. and Vanderbilt Ave., New York City (212-867-6767)



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