To say I was skeptical about going to a fondue restaurant would be an understatement. I mean, how good can a restaurant be that only serves fondue? And how, possibly, could it make it just serving fondue, for heaven's sake? I had a lot to learn about the place and about fondue.
I know, I know. I'm supposed to be open to new ideas and cuisines but, honestly, fondue? The mere mention of the word instantly brings back the '70s. Remember those avocado and banana pots that everyone had back then? My family had on, and here's what we did in it: We fried. Yep, hunks of beef or chicken, floating about in oil hot enough to melt your leisure suit. It was mod, dangerous, exotic and fun but, it seemed to me before I went to The Melting Pot, more than a little passé.
Fortunately I had made reservations because the couple in front of us were quoted an hour wait. The place has a definite '80s feel to it; high booths separate the tables from each other. It's intimate.
You have to think a bit at the Melting Pot and make some decisions. The menu is incredibly diverse -- Swiss or cheddar? Beef or fish? White or dark chocolate? Fixed price or à la carte. Oil or broth? The waiter explains a few things and suggests the four-course Big Night Out ($74 for two, and trademark-registered fancy), and we bite.
How, you may wonder, is this all accomplished? Fondue at a restaurant? Well, it's pretty cool. There is an electric burner on the table with a double burner waiting for the cheese fondue, our first course.
They are very flexible here, but we stick to the suggested Gruyère and Emmentaler with artichoke and spinach ($14 for two, à la carte).
It arrives mis en place and is prepared by the waiter tableside. In about 90 seconds we've got a gooey pot of liquid gold. Served with rustic bread chunks, fresh veggies and the surprisingly good Granny Smith apple slices, it's delicious. We scrape the pot with the apple but still can't get all of it. (It must be hell to be a dishwasher here.)
We get the Mushroom Salad and the California Salad (both $5). The Mushroom Salad is uninspired but cute in a weird way: sliced, fresh mushrooms, romaine and a parmesan vinaigrette. That's it. On the other hand, the California Salad is very inspired: mixed baby greens, romas, dry blue cheese, walnuts with a raspberry black walnut vinaigrette. The dressing is a sweet contrast to the tangy buttermilk blue cheese.
Somewhere in the middle of the salads, the waiter brings out the court bouillon, a spiced vegetable broth, for our entrées. He uses a medieval, torture-device thing to clamp a lid down on the pot for safety sake. He turns the burner up and, by the time he clears our salads, it's at a slow boil, ready for our goodies.
Honestly, I was a little leery of the broth (remember, we fried), but it really seemed to work on our mixed plate of stuff. Here's what we got and what we thought of each: Rock Crab claws -- they came in frozen, I guess, and were mushy and harder than crap to get out of the shells; Lobster tail -- very good in the broth; filet medallions -- good, but poached beef is not my favorite; sushi grade Ahi tuna -- delicious in the broth; and chicken -- a little bland. An incredible array of sauces blanketed the table, nine in all. We liked the basil pesto and the ginger plum. Some of the others were just too overpowering for me. Potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms and squash are provided as a side. (Dump them all in when they arrive, as they take a while to cook.)
There are many chocolate fondues for dessert, and we opt for the dark. Oh my god. Yum. With a tray of fruit, cheesecake and other delectables (don't pass on the walnut marshmallows), it was an amazing finish to an already amazing meal.
Overall, we really liked the Melting Pot. It's interactive and a lot of fun. It takes a while because of the nature of the meal, so go with close friends or family and make a night of it. And, trust me, you can leave your skepticism at home. ©
The Melting Pot
Go: 11023 Montgomery Road, Harper's Point
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Sunday
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Fish and cheese fondue
Accessibility: Handicap accessible with handicap parking