In a word: It’s fon-doing it. (Please kill me!)
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JM, John, Nichole, Rose, and Sue split 2 Fondue Feast “Big Night[s] Out;” plus two soft drinks, a coffee and an espresso.
The bill was $120, or $24/person, plus tip.
JM gave Melting Pot an A; Rose and John gave Melting Pot an A-; Nichole gave Melting Pot a B+ (see our grading rubric).
Nichole’s birthdays engender more eating out opportunities than those available to the average consumer. Melting Pot seemed like a good spot to take the family since they had specials and theme nights, though we were also a little skeptical because it seemed that fondue is not the type of cuisine that quite reaches the level of haute… more like Terre Haute.
The tables at Melting Pot have induction burners built right in. This constraint on seating arrangements, combined with the leisurely pace of a fondue dinner, makes reservations a must. As it turns out, five is an ideal number for dining here. With four, you’ll probably get a table with two fondue pots and enjoy the variety that allows, but you’ll end up wasting a lot of food. With six, you may be too crowded. But five is good company.
The eating started off with the full complement of four salads, all of which were very fresh and of a decent size. The garden salad that Rose and John split had a great creamy dressing, and the tomatoes and cucumbers were chopped small. JM liked his Caesar a lot especially noting its well-dressedness, Sue was happy with her spinach, and Nichole's California salad with the apple-and-gorgonzola treatment was pretty good too.
OK, so there’s a lot of group decisions that have to be made when you eat out for fondue with your parents. JM recommends, and we used, instant run-off voting to this end for two critical decisions: broth and the other dessert. The seven sentence instant runoff voting primer:
Write down all the choices (or a subset if everyone can agree to eliminate options). Have everyone rank these choices from 1 (best) to n (worst) where n is the number of options. Each person has a single vote that starts by being assigned to their first choice, once one item has a majority (more than half), it wins and becomes selected. If none has a majority cast out the one with the fewest first place votes. If there is a tie for fewest first place votes, add up the numerical positions from all the voters and the lowest score wins. If someone’s first place vote is eliminated, transfer their vote to their highest ranked remaining choice. Repeat until you have one item with a majority.
Using this method we opted for the coq au vin, a broth, and traditional bourguignonne, which is standard hot oil, for our entrees. But first, the cheese.
The best part of the experience, we agreed, was the showmanship of the server. Not only did she give a mini-course in fondue cooking times that included ample safety warnings, she mixed the fondues up at the table with alacrity and finesse and all manner of other ten-cent words.
The first fondue course was cheese with bread and crudités. The traditional Swiss fondue was well-balanced but a bit gritty. The Wisconsin trio of butterkase, fontina, and buttermilk bleu (called Wisconsin on Melting Pot menus across the country, not just in our home state, unlike some Noodle chains we & Co. could name) was flavorful, maybe more so after we learned that the Melting Pot gets its cheeses from Monroe, Wisconsin.
Our server did seem to try to talk us out of getting the oil fondue – not only is it less nutritionally sound than broth, but it’s also more dangerous and difficult to cook with – but in the end we opted for the treacherous cauldron. It was brought to the table in an ingenious device that looked like the misbegotten lovechild of a toolbox and a vise grip, called the “Romulator.”
We were brought a platter of beautifully presented raw meats (chicken, steak, salmon, pork and shrimp) and six small, unremarkable spinach ravioli. Mushrooms, squash, onions and broccoli appeared. Tempura and beer batters were also available, but proved hard for us novices to get right. An assortment of sauces, from cocktail sauce with extra horseradish, bourbon apple butter, plum, curry, and green goddess came on the side to create infinite permutations.
You can learn a lot about you companions eating this way. Do they hold back, or do they dive in? Are they careful with their forks? Do they cook and eat one piece at a time? Or do they load up a plate and then eat up? Do they wistfully wonder whether it would be gauche to ask to take the leftover broth home?
For dessert, our server was careful to make sure Nichole, as the birthday girl, got to choose one pot without compromising. She settled on the dark chocolate and cherry and we settled (see above) on the turtle as well.
Two plates of dippable sweets included a lamentably small amount of fresh bananas and strawberries, and too much cheesecake, Rice Krispie treats, marshmallows, pound cake, and brownies. Sue wished for apricots or pineapple, and Nichole would have even tried a pretzel; everyone seemed to shun the poor marshmallows, which were coated in Oreo crumbs that added a good grip for chocolate but didn’t spare us the bland sweetness.
It was fun – and messy – to cook our own morsels, fish them out with our color-coded forks, and try the different sauces. In a way, it was overwhelming: a choice for every bite, as opposed to one choice and done when ordering from a traditional menu. For those afflicted with what gamers call Analysis Paralysis, this surfeit of options can be a problem. For the rest of the population, fondue is fun, and Melting Pot does a decent job of it.