As a foodie and devout cheese lover, I used to lament the fact that I hadn’t tried fondue. However when I was in Shanghai this past summer I visited a Japanese occidental cuisine restaurant that specialized in fondue. With melted cheese and white miso, this Japanese rendition was so heavenly that I scraped the pot until it was spotless, fully aware of the calories I had taken in.
What is fondue? Contrary to common belief, it is actually a Swiss national dish, rather than a French classic. In its most original form, it is presented as a pot of melted cheese served in a portable stove. Uniquely shaped long-stemmed forks are used to dip bread and vegetables, mostly carrots and broccoli, into the communal pot. However, the term has become more generalized, and nowadays seems to refer to any dish served as a shared pot of hot liquid.
More than once, I mentioned my craving for fondue to my friends, who almost always responded with “Try The Melting Pot!”
So, when after taking four metro stops to Ballston and finding out that the Russian restaurant I had in mind for dinner was closed for a special event, I realized that The Melting Pot was only 10 minutes away and I convinced my partner to march on with me toward this popular national chain. Although this fondue restaurant appeared rather empty from the outside, as we checked in with the hostess, we were told that every table had already been reserved, so my party of two was eventually seated at the bar area. However, the closest table to our right remained empty until we finished our two-hour dinner, causing us to doubt the establishment’s management of reservations. One friendly piece of advice: Unless you are a really, really big eater, do not opt for the 4-Course Experience. My partner and I, both starving when we stepped in, ordered just a cheese fondue, a salad and an entree, and we left feeling fully stuffed.
For our cheese fondue course, I originally gravitated toward the bacon and gorgonzola. However, given that gorgonzola is an acquired taste and my partner had only a very limited experience with any kind of cheese, I decided to go with the milder cheddar ($7.95 per person). The warm fondue pot arrived at our table, filled with a gurgling, golden liquid mix of aged cheddar and Swiss cheese that instantly whetted my appetite. I dipped a piece of bread into the pot, wrapped it with a thick layer of melted cheese, and waited for the delicious explosion. To my disappointment, instead of the rich taste of cheddar and swiss, the pot of liquid had a strong flavor of beer. This, coupled with an excessive taste of vinegar, eclipsed the flavor of cheese and rendered it unenjoyable.
Although the first recommendation from our server, who was also the bartender, proved to be a miss, his suggestion for the salad dish turned out to be a great hit. We had the spinach mushroom salad ($5.75). The salad had been thoughtfully divided into two separate dishes. Despite the description on the menu, the burgundy shallot vinaigrette wasn’t warm. Nevertheless, its flavor went perfectly well with the spinach, the mushrooms and especially the chopped bacon. Here comes the second tip from an experienced foodie: Even if, like me, you are not a bacon person, you can nonetheless never go wrong with a bacon and spinach combination, ever.
The star of the dinner, unexpectedly, was the entree: wild mushroom sacchetti ($15.95) prepared in coq au vin style (an additional $5.95 per pot). Sacchetti resemble ravioli, only with a more spherical shape, whereas coq au vin contains a mixture of herbs, spices and mushrooms immersed in burgundy wine. Once the broth boiled, we were instructed to pour the sacchetti and the vegetables, which included potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli, into the pot. After one-and-a-half minutes, we were allowed to take out the cooked items and dip them into any of the six sauces that came with the dish. The sacchetti paired extremely well with the gorgonzola cheese sauce, as did the mushrooms. The potatoes and the broccoli, on the other hand, tasted best with either the curry mayo sauce or the parsley sauce. While I cannot say for sure how much influence the coq au vin broth had on the final taste, I can vouch for the high quality of the complementary sauces, in particular to the aforementioned three.
As ironic as it sounds, the dish that I had anticipated the most — the cheese fondue — turned out to be the only disappointment of the whole dining experience. On the contrary, the entree surprised me with both its presentation and deliciousness. Overall, I was left a bit disillusioned, for the cheese fondue failed to match, let alone surpass, the one I had tried in Shanghai. That said, given the amazing taste of the gorgonzola sauce, the bacon and gorgonzola cheese fondue might have a most delightful taste: This is a theory waiting to be tested.