The exacting dedication to detail that went into every one of legendary Joe Baum’s fantasies was poured into the building of La Fonda Del Sol, a restaurant that involved several junkets throughout Latin America.
At La Fonda, fashion designers draped the waiters in ponchos, serapes, and high-heeled matador boots.
For the dining room, color was used as architecture. The room’s sun-drenched adobe walls set off vibrant purple and orange banquettes.
Recesses in the walls were stocked with hundreds of Latin American dolls, small toys, and figurines made of Ecuadorian, Brazilian, and Argentinean festival breads.
For the first time, Joe added an open kitchen, which lent vitality and energy to the room.
Rows of chefs tended spits and grills laden with suckling pigs, legs of lamb, sides of beef, and whole turkeys that turned slowly and aromatically over beds of glowing coals. Cauldrons of soup simmered to the beat of the marimba and mariachi bands and, later in the evening, to the haunting strains of a classical guitar.
Food was center stage, but when the new chef offered the señor a traditional South American dish of stewed tripe with rice, Joe leapt from his chair and shouted at him, “Forget it! No one’s gonna eat this shit.”
The entire staff at La Fonda was from Latin America. They infused the restaurant with a sense of excitement and gaiety, also reflected in the advertising campaign, featuring a mustachioed hombre with eyes closed and head on the table, making various wise-guy pronouncements such as:
“No. no. stupido, we said, ‘Fiesta at La Fonda del Sol, not Siesta.’”
Or, “We are not responsible for articles lost or exchanged on the premises, nor for deals and bargains struck during meal periods.”
And, “There is to be no dancing on the tables after midnight and if you go home with someone other than the person you came with, it is no fault of the management.”
Genius! Pure Genius!
One way to relive this experience is by visiting the glorious archives of the New York Public Library’s Menu Collection in person or strolling online at Cooked Books, Rebecca Federman’s wonderful blog.