Heaven only knows why I enjoy a restaurant as spectacularly unreliable as La Fonda Latina. It can’t be because of the service. You know, I figure that I have spent many chapters in this story singling out really good restaurants for their really good service. It is only fair, therefore, to occasionally single out a pretty good restaurant for its downright mediocre service. Only fair.
La Fonda is the sister restaurant to Fellini’s Pizza, a more-than-pretty good restaurant that serves up one of my favorite pizzas in the city. Fellini’s is simple and incredibly tasty and incredibly reliable and the service is also occasionally iffy. However, both the food and the service are better than Antico, which everybody’s been raving about for months. Actually, the pizza’s only a little bit better than Antico, which indeed serves up a very good pie, but the occasionally iffy service is a thousand times better than the surly antagonism that Antico dishes up.
Anyway, the cozy relationship of these two restaurants has resulted in a very interesting trio of locations where the owners have managed to construct or conspire a La Fonda and a Fellini’s right next door to each other: on Ponce near North Highland, on Peachtree in Buckhead, and on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The design of these particular buildings is incredibly interesting. They look remarkably 1960s, with that weird, undulating awning that reminds me of the old chain of Treasure Island discount stores.
Our friend Matt picked the Roswell La Fonda to meet up for supper one night last week, the evening that the kids and I returned from Chattanooga. We learned then that this La Fonda is the loudest restaurant in the city, and that the service was really quite remarkably mediocre, even by La Fonda standards. But wasn’t the food good?
As we got back into town with about an hour to spare before we met the group, David drove us over to the Buckhead Borders. This was an interesting sight. It’s one of the stores that’s closing, and right now everything is 20-30% off, which would be eyebrow-raising if Borders didn’t send me an email coupon every week to buy a book for 33% off. Actually, Borders seems to send me an email every stinking day, either to give me a coupon I’m not going to use, or tell me that the store nearest me is closing, or tell me that they’re very concerned that I seem to be the only person in the United States not to have purchased The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo from Borders.com.
We got back to the restaurant and lucked into a parking space. This La Fonda and Fellini’s complex has an agonizingly small parking lot, and, typically, it’s right next door to a gigantic, mostly unused shopping center with parking spaces aplenty and, because the shopping center is owned by jerks, parking here and eating at La Fonda is a guaranteed way to get your car towed. David and the kids and I were the last to arrive; Marie, Neal, Matt and his wife Kelley had already made it in and got a table on the patio, surrounded by noise and an awful lot of screaming children with Chick-fil-A kids meals while the grown-ups had something ostensibly a little nicer.
Actually, what the grown-ups had was almost certainly nicer. La Fonda has a good reputation for being one of the best places in the city to enjoy paella. That’s what Matt and Kelley each had, with different ingredients. Honestly, paella is not my favorite meal – it seems a high price to pay for a hell of a lot of rice and not nearly enough meat – but I have found myself craving it from time to time, and La Fonda does a fine job with it. My son and I split an order of three really terrific and delicious chicken tacos, served, as almost all of the meals are, with yellow rice and black beans, and an order of fried plantains and garlic sauce. Marie had a quesadilla with spinach and onions.
And we all had terrible service. I don’t know who our server ever was, because we seemed to have about nine different ones. I suspect that whomever our server originally was, he or she got pressganged into helping another table where one woman was having paella and her three screaming children were having Chick-fil-A kids meals, and then our next server was told to get an order of something else to some other table and we last saw that guy on the other side of the restaurant. In between nine different people putting things on our table and getting pulled to do other things on everybody else’s table, we got perhaps one refill of chips – most broken into fingernail-sized crumbs – and salsa – quite good, perhaps, yet also indistinguishable from this restaurant’s lazy attempt at gazpacho – and no refills of anything to drink other than water. Neal had a diet soda and, once it was done, he was out of luck.
It sounds like a night out at the restaurant from hell, but it was at least good to enjoy everybody’s company and talk about the fun trip we took to Chattanooga and the neat barbecue that we found there. The food was just super, although I’ve always felt it just a little pricey. As for the service, I just figured, heck, this was a Thursday night. I bet Fridays and Saturdays here, assuming you can find a place to park, are completely ridiculous.
When we left, though, I was thinking, as good as those chicken tacos were, it sure has been a while since I enjoyed a slice or two of Fellini’s.