I'm calling it now: Fondue, the dinner-party craze of the 1960s and 1970s, is making a comeback. When a girlfriend of mine suggested The Melting Pot for dinner and for us to catch up, I was surprised, but was game for it. It had been years since I'd been there. My most recent previous experience was back in high school, when my first boyfriend saved for months to take us out to a "grown-up" dinner. Because of that, and the fact that fondue is a food trend known mostly for its kitschy past, it's not a place I'd think to go. I imagined we'd dip some stuff in cheese and I'd leave hungry, then hit up a drive-through window. On the contrary: I left The Melting Pot happily full and with a newfound appreciation for fondue.
Our group of four opted for the 4-Course Experience, which included one cheese fondue choice, an individual salad, an individual entrée and one chocolate fondue choice. The various options in the entrée category makes this is an ideal dinner idea for large groups with varying tastes. The price for the entrée choice is the price for the four-course experience and ranges from $36.95 for the vegetarian to $47.95 for the surf and turf. We went with the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue --Fontina and Butterkäse cheeses, spinach, artichoke hearts and garlic, a LOT of garlic. The server set up the fondue starting with a bouillon base and added each component one at a time, and once the cheese had melted into a beautiful gooey mess, we dipped cubes of bread, vegetables and tortilla chips into the hot cheese. The cheese disappeared in minutes, and our salads thankfully arrived. The spinach and mushroom was simple and fresh -- spinach, baby portobello, red onion, chopped bacon and tomatoes were drizzled with a shallot vinaigrette.
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I chose the Land and Sea entrée option ($38.95), which included cubes of filet mignon, herb-crusted chicken and white shrimp. We stuck with the basic vegetable bouillon as a cooking style for the meat. We speared the meat with our designated colored fondue forks and dunked them into the broth, chatting as we waited for the meat to cook to our desired doneness. Mushrooms, broccoli and red potatoes accompanied the meat.
For dessert, we went the purist route: melted milk chocolate. Strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, pound cake, brownies and cheesecake bits were sacrificed to the hot melted chocolate.
Fondue isn't gourmet; it's more about the experience than it is about the meal. It's the idea of sitting around a hot pot, sharing a meal, and it's about the hands-on element. And let's face it, it's never wrong to eat cheese- and chocolate-covered anything. It may be time to take down that fondue set you long ago forgot about.