March 26, 2009

Tapas are Tasty and Retro is Chic at NYC’s La Fonda del Sol

A reincarnation of the supposed iconic restaurant of the 1960s, La Fonda del Sol is a very bright spot in the rather bleak midtown restaurant scene.

I’ve had the pleasure of dining at La Fonda twice– dinner in the more casual “lounge” and lunch in the formal dining room. The menus are similar, so head to the livelier bar area unless you still have an expense account and must pretend to be grown up. Check out the magnificent bullfighting and Flamenco photos in the dining room which somehow work beautifully with the sun-splashed carpet.

Mild digression alert: skip to the next paragraph if you’re pressed for time or have an aversion to run-on sentences. Now, I know tapas. Dare I even say that I’m a tapas connoisseur? Well, no, ick. However, those who know me well — and if you’re reading my blog that’s probably the case, unless at this stage in my increasingly socially media-ized life, I might be so delusional as to think that some of the Twitterati is reading as well — know that I’m generally lacking in ego. I’ve just been fortunate to have tapas trolled and crawled through NYC, not to mention Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevillla. Kick-ass tapas in Sevilla, by the way, with a side of Flamenco, amazing!

Anyway, the buried lead here is that La Fonda del Sol, while the antithesis of my usual cozy, downtown, sometimes dive-y haunts (being expansive with snazzy, sleek, striped décor in the shadow of Grand Central), is worth a detour. It’s an especially great after-work mood lifting spot.

But let’s talk tapas. Chef Josh DeChellis, with Michelin-starred stints and most recently of BarFry fame, is a master of fried, so croquetas are a MUST. How to choose from Manchego cheese, salt cod, or the politically-incorrect but dense and delicious veal terrine croquetas? Simple, order all three, they don’t disappoint. Tiny tuna tacos, laced with avocado and jalapeno-pickled onion have just the right amount of kick and delicate crunch from the taco shells. Garbanzo beans and spinach leaf or espinacas con garbanzos – forgive me I missed my Spanish class this week, must practice somehow – were smoky and creamy. The octopus or pulpo, with potatoes was very respectable. And I’m a pulpo snob after a recent trip to Pontevdra on the northwest coast of Spain, where we had pulpo at practically EVERY meal (usually grilled with olive oil and pimentón, but also gratinée, a wondrously silky, smoky, cheesy, chewy but in a good way concoction). Skip the potted duckling and pork, the only off note on an otherwise super solid tapas menu. Never tried any of the entrees, kinda seems besides the point, but I’m game to be convinced otherwise.

We drank the Don Olegario Albariño with lunch - crisp, fresh, great body, and a pleasing hint of smokiness that I can’t figure out since the wine is completely stainless-steel aged. Call me crazy.

Both meals ended with bunyols or cinnamon fritters - heavenly fried dough with three sauces: chocolate orange, pink peppercorn passion fruit, and salty caramel. We practically licked the ramekins clean.

Nice wine list and sherry selection, good cocktails too. Try the añejo highball, rum, curacao, ginger, and lime.

Ok, now I’m starving and muy thirsty! Hope you are too. Salut!

La Fonda del Sol
Met Life Building
44th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue
T: 212-867-6767

January 05, 2009

Happy New Year!

Bonne année or I should say feliz año nuevo given that this post was supposed to be about my latest spate of tapas crawling in west Chelsea. Never mind that this luscious looking Ibérico Jamon de Bellota (ham from acorn-fed free range black pigs, for those not yet in the know) was enjoyed at Pata Negra in the East Village a few months ago. Muy rico! I just got home from Spanish class, please forgive me. Sit at the bar and chat with Chef Mateo, he’ll treat you right. The other photo was actually taken at Txikito the new Basque tapas joint - not the most appropriate use of “joint” but I’m at a loss for the moment. Order the boquerones (marinated white anchovy, eggplant, piquillo peppers) pictured here. I’m not a huge anchovy fan, but these were delicioso. Another standout was the txitxiki – chorizo hash mini sandwiches. Perfect with refreshing housemade sangria, spiked with gin and a “secret ingredient”, hmm. I’d skip the cod with the fried headcheese, yech, though critics have praised the dish.
After what was supposed to be ONE quick drink and ONE or TWO tapas (of course we had more, including a kind of morcilla fritter also in the photo - just not going into details at the moment), headed around the corner with G to El Quinto Pino for torreznos or “Spanish style craklins”. The wine list is concise and the wine I wanted to try wasn’t offered by the glass, so what the heck, I ordered- and we finished – the bottle. Planella 2006 from the Monsant region: a hearty, textured almost velvety blend of Cab, Syrah, Graciano and Mazuelo. The only drawback came when our server/bartender poured the last bit of the bottle out into G’s glass and she ended up with a mouthful of sediment. Very worthwhile other than this truly bitter end. The ride home was a bit hazier than expected though. Is any wonder why I’m in January detox? And I haven’t even told you about the many ricotta cookies, New Year’s Day gumbo and rum punch… I’ll be tea-totaling for a few weeks but have a lot of catching up to do so there may be more posts before I take off for Paris. Cheers!

Pata Negra: 345 East 12th street between 1st and 2nd aves
Txikito: 29 9th avenue between 24th and 25th sts
El Quinto Pino: 401 West 24th between 9th and 10th aves

November 20, 2008

Angelic Eats in Hell's Kitchen

Happy fall everyone, even though it freakin' feels like winter! What’s up with this weather?

So of course I’ve been remiss in my blogging, quoi de neuf. And I want to talk about all the fabulous beef I ate in Argentina. Don’t think vacas say “moo”, what do you think? Let me know. French cows say “meuh” just in case you were wondering. Before I get to Argentina, let’s go to Hell’s Kitchen and dinner at Casellula with Georgi, Anne, and Doug.

I’m multi-tasking and watching “Spain on the Road Again” with Mario Batali and Gwenyth Paltrow. Kind of annoying, but I feel compelled to watch as they were in Rioja staying at the Marques de Riscal Frank Gehry hotel. The dynamic duo was visiting the winery and the cellar master heated up the bottleneck of a 1958 Rioja with a blowtorch. He lopped it off with tongs instead of pulling the cork in case the cork had rotted, interesante. Gwynnie’s Spanish is actually great, but her non-meat eating habit is weird alongside Mario’s love of all things from the barnyard. But enough digressing.

In sharp contrast to the almost ethereal vegetarian cuisine at Ubuntu, Casellula’s menu is a paean to decadence.

In honor of Anne and Doug’s semi-recent trip to Portugal, we started off with a bottle of Barco Negro from the Douro, a blend of Tempranillo, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional. One of the cheapest bottles on the list and perfectly delicious with Chistorras (small peppery Basque sausages) in a blanket. The hors d'oeuvre of choice at Spanish bar mitzvahs. We had two types of bruschettas - one with fresh ricotta, honey and lavendar; the other with roasted peppers and morcilla. Oh the morcilla I had in Buenos Aires…with hazelnuts and fennel. Can’t think too much about the making of morcilla or I might become a vegetarian (not). We followed with a tower of endive leaves layered with crunchy and creamy Roaring Forties blue cheese, pear slices, and macadamia nuts in a Sherry vinaigrette. As we polished off the Barca Negro, another bottle was in order. Wanting to stay off the beaten track, I ordered the St. Paul's Exclusiv Lagrein from the Alto Adige region of Italy. And look, client plug at the same time. Though they don't deserve it. Anyway, the inky, dark fruit Lagrein had just enough acidity – geek alert – to stand up to their ridiculously rich “Pig's Ass Sandwich” and “Goose Breast Reuben”. Um, must point out that there were four of us sharing each sandwich. Somewhere in mid-cholesterol fest, the Lagrein emptied and we hadn't even gotten to the cheese plate. Where to go next? Funky indigenous variety wanted. The Sattler St. Laurent from Austria worked. The wine was juicy with lots of fruit and white pepper.

We actually ordered dessert after all this – some sort of cheesecake thing. Can’t remember exactly. And then, on the house, came Goat Cheese Hazelnut Truffles. Sounds disgusting, but the tang of the goat cheese with dark chocolate is a surprisingly amazing combination. Good thing we didn’t have any wafer thin mints after that. The results would have been ugly.

Casellula Cheese & Wine Bar
401 West 52nd off of 9th Avenue, NYC
No reservations accepted.

August 03, 2008

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio

Restaurant and yoga studio? No, I am not making that up, restaurant AND yoga studio, though I didn’t do any sun salutations before, during or after the meal… Let me explain. Went to Napa for the Taste 3 conference (the 3 referring to Food, Wine, and Art, capital letters obliges, simply fabulous, but more on that another time lest I get totally sidetracked). The night before the conference I had dinner with my boss at the restaurant rated #1 in the country by Frank Bruni. For anyone reading this not living in the center of the universe, Bruni is the restaurant critic for the New York Times. Normally I don’t give such credence to critics, but I had tasted one of the restaurant’s dishes in Aspen, at Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs evening and it was amazing. Could I sound more pretentious? Moving on.

Ubuntu, our server explained, means “humanity towards others” in an African language. No I don’t recall which one, but there’s video message from Nelson Mandela on the restaurant’s website. Draw your own conclusion. Anyway, according to the site, “Celebrating the natural bounty of the earth, Ubuntu is less about a philosophy of no meat and instead a celebration of our own biodynamic gardens.” Now this doesn’t sound particularly like my kind of dining experience. No meat, mostly vegan, hmm, visions of self-righteous, earthy-crunchy vegetarians danced in my head. I’m a weird food snob who’s super picky about what kind of lettuces cross my plate let alone fork – no field greens, no arugula, I know, I know, and forget about sprouts – ick. So I braced myself for a tofu and raw veggie fest. Au contraire, mes amis. The space was stylish African ethnic, the servers knowledgeable but not overly zealous, and most importantly, the food was delicious.

We started with marcona almonds dusted with lavender, sugar and sea salt. As soon as they were placed on the table, a deliciously tantalizing aroma practically transported me to the field of lavender and sunflowers in Provence that Sabine took me to years ago. Given that it was a beautiful balmy night and we were sitting in the restaurant’s garden, this was not such a stretch. The almonds set the stage for chickpea fries with hebs and a romanesco sauce (a kind of fresh tomato sauce); baby beets roasted in nectarine juices with speckled quinoa, hazelnuts, and ficoide glaciale (think that last bit was the green sprig on top that I didn’t eat); grilled peach and french bean salad (so glad they didn’t call them haricots verts), with burrata (super creamy homemade mozzarella, sooo good) and pesto, basil vinegar.

Eveything was ridiculously fresh, vibrant, and super tasty, though some of the dishes were a tad over-salted. And I felt virtuous. This food had to be good for you and there were no food miles. Of course none of this green-eco stuff would have mattered if the food wasn’t gorgeous – and I mean this in the Irish way - pretty and yummy. I just watched the irish movie “Once” on dvd, cut me some slack. The kitchen also showed a sense of humor as the dessert we ordered, bowl of frosted feuilletine with bananas, vanilla ice cream, and warm parsnip milk was a riff on frosted flakes. Never thought I’d eat parsnip milk, didn’t even know such a thing existed and rice dream sort of disgusts me. But this was fun and yummy, not sure what descriptor the Irish would use for that combination. Oh, and we drank a wonderful, very floral yet dry Moscato Giallo from Lageder, from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Client plug, check.

Quite a wonderful experience all in all. I wouldn’t go there all the time, but well worth trying at least once and I might even return on a future trip out there. Next time though I’ll bring a yoga mat.

June 23, 2008

Prague post-prandial part deux

Before Boulder, it’s back to Bohemia...While I enthusiastically partook in the Czech tradition of high-quality, flavorful, totally cheap beer, nary a dumpling or over-boiled vegetable crossed my plate. Other than a cup of “Czech soup” (don’t ask, garlic galore and weird bread crumbs floating in some sort of oily liquid – it was a desperate situation of near starvation) my meals in the capital were wonderful.

Four standouts off the beaten tourist path: Cervena Tabulka (, Mozaika (, L’Ardoise ( and Pasticka “Kvelb & Pub” ( C’mon, how could you not want to go somewhere called a “kvelb”? Must ask Nico what that means. Anyway, let’s get to the burger from Mozaika. Mozaika is a “fusion” restaurant, though I’ve started to hate that word too. Where is all this hate coming from, hmm? Anyway, a Czech chef and owner with an international bent. A nice vibe, smiley service AND super juicy burger on a spinach roll, sautéed onions, mushrooms, and cheese along with a pile of perfectly crunchy fries. Yum. Also worth noting was the “tuna au roast beef”. It would take much too long to explain the name, but the dish is a riff on tartare and delicious. Just for kicks had a glass of Moravian Muller-Thurgau that was unremarkable, but the burger, mmmn.

Next up - Pasticka. Ok, felt like a cool underground Czech pub – and I have the overwhelming urge to call it a rathskeller. Don’t know if I’ve ever used that word before, much less in a sentence, but there you go. From an online source since I’m too lazy to walk across the room and get my dictionary: rathskeller - a tavern below street level featuring beer; originally a German restaurant in the basement of city hall. Not too far off, though the Czechs might take offense at being confused with Germans. Let’s ignore that for now. The food was hearty and fairly traditional I guess as there were meats in sauces. They were tasty though, and I loved the ambiance. Do skip the pickled brie in oil, onion and garlic unless you feel a need to ward off vampire hordes.

L’Ardoise, run by charming French film industry veteran, Alex, was the site of my most gastronomic meal: foie gras ravioli, sea bass on a bed of sautéed vegetables, cheese bien sûr, and a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape. We had sorbet for dessert - I mean come on - and closed the meal in Eastern European fashion with shots of chilled vodka, offered by our host. (I was forewarned!) Then there was the added bonus of chatting with French film star Hippolyte Girardot. Oh just google him.

Lastly, I vaguely recall the Cervena Tabulka as a lovely place. However, we went there for a quick appetizer and glass of wine before a concert and after I had been awake and traveling for a zillion hours so please forgive me if I skip the details. Just trust me.

How did I not gain 10 pounds with all this eating? Oh right, it was the dancing past dawn every night….

Next time, my dinner of more than 30 wines. If you can’t wait – hahaha – check out what a professional had to say about it:

June 22, 2008

Pushing the pink!

Promises, promises…So this installment was supposed to be Prague part deux – where I actually talk about what I ate in Bohemia. Or at least some tidbits about what went down in Boulder (my dinner of 30+ wines) and Aspen (snow flurries, chef José Andres’ version of ‘ham and eggs’ - yes, slices of Jamon Ibérico at $160 a pound wrapped around caviar or one of NYC’s leading sommelier’s after-hours plumbing skills), but lo and behold in spite of all this material, here I am talking about pink wine.

Why? Well, I worked at Astor Wines today and continued to be surprised at people’s resistance to rosé wine. When asked what to drink with all sorts of dishes that would be perfect with rosé, especially given the warm, sticky weather, I was told, “oh, I don’t drink rosé” or “aren’t they all sweet?” or “rosés aren’t very good” or just looks of disdain and incredulity at my ridiculous suggestion. I LOVE ROSÉ! Ok, let me clarify that – I love good dry rosé, and there’s a lot of it out there these days. And it’s made from Syrah or Garnacha or Cabernet Franc or Nebbiolo et ainsi de suite. So just drink rosé – here are some to try.
Do it!
• Les Larmes du paradis vallée d’aoste
• Gran Feudo rosato
• Mulderbosch
• Le Rosé des Deux Ânes
• Montes Cherub – if you can find it
• Sinskey Vin Gris
• Viña Tondonia Rosado, Lopez de Heredia – not for everyone....

May 29, 2008

Prague, post-prandial, part one

It’s been just over a month since I jetted off to Praha and my memory might be a bit hazy, but I promised to blog about the surprisingly excellent meals I had there. I’d headed east expecting grey skies — the weather report went from bad to worse in the days leading up to my trip — and grey food, unidentifiable meats in sauce, dumplings, lots of potatoes, and over-cooked vegetables. That’s what I experienced on my first trip to the Czech Republic in 2003. (I had gone there for a conference to meet with other PR teams from Sopexa -my former employer).

This time, I endured a SEVEN-hour layover in Heathrow’s infamous terminal 5 because of a missed connection or connections – there were two options - following delays at JFK due to a fire at the fuel farm! Can’t make this stuff up. I spent most of that time huddled in a big comfy chair in a lovely café drinking ridiculously expensive café au lait and mineral water, trying not to fall asleep at the table and crackberrying everyone I could to relieve the boredom. I finally got the hell out of Heathrow and managed a quick nap on the BA flight, gobbling up a ploughman’s sandwich on the plane. It was actually quite tasty though I was fairly starving and mildly delirious by that point, so my normally exquisite judgment may have been impaired.

I arrived in Prague at 6 pm local time, a mere 18 hours after my supposed departure from NYC. Rain that had soaked the city all day stopped just before my plane touched down and hints of sun peaked from out of the clouds welcoming me, along with N’s smiling face. I made it! Even if I really saw more of Prague by night, sun, blue skies and warm breezes made an umbrella obsolete right up until the morning of my departure when rain lashed against the window of my taxi to the airport.

But this was supposed to be about the FOOD, notably a fantastic burger, foie gras ravioli, and of course, great beer. Yes, I drank lots of cheap, excellent beer, moi. It’s the freakin’ Pilsner homeland after all! But thanks to Nico who does marketing for food and wine among other things and is almost as big a foodie as I am (please let’s come up with an alternative to that word, I’ve begun to HATE it), Prague was a delicious destination. Go right ahead and make loud groaning noises at that line!

But as now I have to go stare at my closet and figure out what to throw on my body tomorrow, stay tuned for part deux, including our dinner with French actor Hyppolite Girardot, chilled vodka shots – the Eastern European digestif of choice, and breakfast at 3 pm. Na zdraví. Cheers!