Just picture yourself sitting on the patio of one of the last icons on Baja’s northern coast. The sun is setting and you are joined by someone you love as you walk into the magic created by Dmytri and Sara. You are feeling very fine because during the day you treated yourself with Antonio Salceda’s gifted hands at the spa. At sunset the water is shimming with fiery light and Paco, the master guitarist, sings from his heart causing you to stop and enjoy the moment. This is sure to be a beautiful memory.
Changes are inevitable. There have been many new developments in the last 5 years. It is making its impact on the once quiet coast south of Rosarito. While it helps the economy, Baja is losing some of the early charm of a quiet retreat many travelers have cherished for decades. I will admit I have a sense of nostalgia for those days and it's not easy to say goodbye to what once was. La Fonda is now one of the last remaining restaurants where you can enjoy good old fashion romantic evenings, and soft mornings on the patio with a hot cup of Mexican coffee.
Greg Niemann’s article, "Seat Your Beautiful Selves" is a good one about the historic La Fonda. He recalls Dmytri and Sara’s beginnings. They bought a small restaurant for the weary travelers in the 70s. It was a quiet time, open space everywhere. Travelers came for the vastness of Baja’s natural resources, favoring the ambience and view of the Pacific while dining. From the humble beginnings La Fonda expanded with the vision of the young couple.
Today, when you walk in the front door, you may notice an empty chair where the ever-present Dmytri use to sit and greet each guest with an invitation to “seat your beautiful selves.” Sadly, the icon died November 11, 2021 at the age of 87. The locals were shocked even so. We thought he would be forever greeting us. Dmytri will always be missed. Now Sara has taken the reins.
Even in her loss, she greets everyone with grace and charm. The menus are still written on blackboards, but you might notice that inflation has done some damage to the prices. However, the plates are still piled high with hearty food. The big steaks and mounds of mash potatoes are appreciated by the off-roaders and cowboys off the rancho. The menu is for big meat eaters, with pork belly, brisket, and the silver cart moves through the evening diners with a prime rib served at your table. The simple hamburger has been turned into a meal for two. Big shrimp are artfully arranged in a huge bowl of pasta, enough for an army. The coconut shrimp is to die for, even if you are sadly watching your weight, you might be tempted to say what the heck!
In other words, you will still find this is an old-world menu from the early days when words like gluten free and probiotics were never heard of. Don’t be dismayed if you truly cannot be teased into eating off the menu, just tell your waiter and they can whip up something for vegetarians. The Sunday brunch is still served with everything imaginable to tempt the glutton hiding in us and the drinks are free.
Sara will not be found sitting in Dmytri’s old chair. She is on her feet running the show like a pro. She meets everyone with the sweetest of smiles and kindness of words. She is a bit of a dichotomy for she is like an angel when she welcomes you. But at the same time she is a no-nonsense business woman. Sara held it all together and even fought off the sharks who rushed in a day after Dmytri’s death wanting to buy the iconic site. Most the locals believe that Dmytri is watching over her.
I have already admitted that I am nostalgic for the old days and I don’t think I am the only one. I believe that many who visit La Fonda do so to revisit past memories. With time comes change, it can’t be helped. Many new foodie centers are fun and have been rapidly expanding a traveler’s choices for the weekend, but nothing can replace what La Fonda offers. The new restaurants sprouting up are lively places of mixology, disco and big screen sports events. The volume is turned up loud enough to be heard on the nearest planet. But La Fonda won’t be pressured to change. Sara is a hold out and offers what the others can’t. It is a gem of the past; a place of beauty and warmth. The music is stellar with Paco, a master guitarist. His talent is worthy of any stage anywhere. One local said that his sound would be a $200 concert in San Diego. To finish off the setting, the candles on each table create a soft glow and the Christmas season brings extra magical highlights. La Fonda is by far the best place for love and romance.
I stepped right next-door to chat with Antonio at the spa. Ten years ago, he approached both Dmytri and Sara looking for an opportunity to expand his passion to create and serve people’s health. Antonio said that both were instrumental in giving the go head to create the health center with an ocean view. Antonio style is unique and very classy. He has been dedicated to the spa business for 20 years. He joined the International Spa Association to learn and be inspired by the great leaders who started the industry. At a turning point in his adventure, he was told to see Dmytri.
His story of meeting Dmytri was fun and very charming. They talked. Dmytri, being the wise man that he was, said to talk to Sara and whatever she said goes. Loaded down with his folder full of accomplishments and licenses, they met. Antonio laughed and said, “She didn’t seem too thrilled, but I had an idea. I suggested to her that Valentine’s Day was coming up. I would take care of all her clients who were coming for the special day.” He smiled, “I arrived with a team and of course it was a success.” Sara realized Antonio’s special qualities and knew he was the one who could bring a fresh look in spa etiquette for La Fonda.
Pedicures and massages are done with a view of the ocean. But you might like to relax in subdued lighting and experience a massage with soft warm towels and essential oils including CBD oil reducing pain and stress. Now you are ready for lunch and an added surprise. If it is low tide, you can catch the Sand Man Jose, an artist creating gigantic perfectly round mandalas in the sand below. Seemingly his design is governed by a higher guidance.
They say all good things come to an end. While this may be true, we can only hope that La Fonda thrives into the new season for Baja California’s future. Nostalgia is good for the soul; it makes us grateful for the life we have lived. A visit to Dmytri’s La Fonda will give us fond memories for years to come.
To contact La Fonda from the U.S. - 011-52-646-155-0872
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com
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