The Melting Pot offers fondue for intimate, business and social dining.

By Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

As the X Generation discovers fondue, we Baby Boomers are bubbling over with memories of swirling chunks of French bread in melted cheese, beef tips sizzling in hot oil and dipping fruit into pots of deep, dark chocolate for dessert. But Bob Dylan was right. Times are a-changing. And much is new in fondue.

So if dining on fondue conjures up mental images of hippies and hot pants, leave your preconceptions at the door. The Melting Pot at Lee Branch is a swank restaurant offering casually upscale dining on the latest generation of fondue. Take a mate for a romantic evening. Plan a corporate dinner party. Invite friends for a social gathering. And enjoy a night out while cooking fondue at your table.

Seating options range from tables for ten to “lover’s lane” (intimate two seat booths in the back), main dining room window booths and nooks and crannies between. All are good tables. The Melting Pot is also an experience, not just a restaurant. But one thing that hasn’t changed about fondue is the social experience enjoyed over steaming pots we share—as a four-course-dinner lasts a couple of hours.

The wine room displays their ever-evolving wine selection. The wine list includes a wide variety of sparkling wines both by the half and full bottle, ranging in price from $17 to $175. The remainder of the extensive list is divided by intensity and color, offering wines from across the globe. And from the full bar—in a separate bar area—classic cocktails, single malt scotches and cognacs are also poured.

Much safer than a pot of boiling oil over an open flame, each table at The Melting Pot has a Magnawave induction burner. They are built in with temperature controls under the table, which your server controls. And the burners do not get hot until metal objects, such as your fondue pot, are placed on them. The pots for each course are brought to the table and removed from the table with a Roemmeltor—a device that is screwed onto and off the pot to prevent spills and splashes.

And both the menu and stainless steel fondue pots are brimming with options of cooking styles and seasonal fondue fare to combine with colorful and flavorful dipping sauces. Individual Entrees are accompanied by a salad. Entrees for Two include a cheese fondue, salad and entree. Or dip into a four-course-dinner, the menu’s “Big Night Out,” which also includes your choice of cheese, salad, featured entrees and dessert. This meal is made for two, or doubled for four.

Cheese offerings include Traditional Swiss Cheese (fondue originated in Switzerland), Cheddar Cheese, Wisconsin Trio, Fiesta Cheese—served with crisp tortilla chips and made as spicy as you like, and tonight’s Featured Cheese. It is the Feng Shui Cheese, a blend of Fontina and Butterkäse cheeses with saké, minced shallots, garlic and scallions. One cheese fondue is selected for each burner, so (up to four) guests must agree on a cheese—beginning the social experience. Tonight our neighbors Barry and Marian Stuman, Kevin and I selected the Wisconsin Trio. This combination of Fontina, Butterka¨se and Buttermilk Bleu cheeses with white wine, fresh scallions and a hint of sherry is a creamy, rich and delicious dish for swirling the variety of breads, French, pumpernickel, and rye, and the crudités of cauliflower, celery, carrots and Granny Smith apples. Fondue is a French verb meaning “to melt,” and as the cheese melts so does the stresses of the day.

Next come the salad options, which no one has to agree upon. Everyone at our table tried a different salad selection, and all were a fresh and interesting mix. The California includes baby salad greens, Roma tomatoes, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese, topped with a fresh Raspberry Black Walnut Vinaigrette Dressing. Crisp greens and sliced mushrooms with a freshly prepared Parmesan Italian Dressing make the Mushroom Salad. Chef’s Salad has Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced eggs, smoked ham, crisp lettuce, Emmenthaler Swiss cheese and the House Dressing. And tonight’s feature is the Mandarin and Almond Salad, a mix of Romaine lettuce, red cabbage and carrots topped with toasted almonds, wonton strips, Mandarin orange wedges and an Asian-inspired dressing, which Barry enjoyed. “This is delicious. I would come here just for the salad,” he says.

Another democratic decision comes when selecting the entree cooking style. The Coq au Vin includes fresh herbs, mushrooms, garlic, spices and Burgundy wine. Court Bouillon is made of homemade, seasoned vegetable broth. Bourguignonne is a European-style fondue in cholesterol-free canola oil.Mojo Style includes a Caribbean seasoned bouillon with distinctive flavors of fresh garlic and citrus. The Coq au Vin is ordered without the mushrooms, (due to my fungi allergy).

Lobster Indulgence is selected as the entrée. A lovely presentation of Vannamei Shrimp, Ahi tuna, teriyaki sirloin, Panang Chicken and pot stickers surround the Twin lobster tails. Each couple has a tray making the “from platter to pot to plate” within easy reach. Broccoli, potatoes and squash also accompany the entree to fondue in the same pot. The seafood and vegetables cook faster than the chicken and meat. And just like old times, we are soon not only dipping into colorful and flavorful sauces but also mixing and matching them. The curry sauce goes with seafood and vegetables, teriyaki for the steak—although Marian discovers that mixing the teriyaki and curry is superb with both the chicken and steak. A Ginger sauce is nice with the pot stickers and shrimp. Gorgonzola port goes with the steak and vegetables. Dijon butter is perfect for the lobster. And the favorite for vegetables is definitely Green Goddess.

To complete the experience, we ladies select the dessert, which is also one choice per burner. There are many chocolate choices, including create your own using dark, white or milk chocolate and your favorite liqueur and topping. But who wouldn’t agree to Amaretto Meltdown Silky white chocolate swirled with Amaretto and flambe´ed tableside? Dippers include fresh strawberries, bananas, pineapple, graham cracker coated marshmallows, and bites of cheesecake, pound cake and brownies.

On our drive back to the neighborhood, the four of us briefly discuss the idea of bringing out the old copper fondue pot and cooking a fondue dinner at home. Then a unanimous decision is made. We would much rather select, swirl and savor another “Big Night Out” at The Melting Pot.

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