The Melting Pot, I hardly knew ye...

Just in case you weren't aware, The Melting Pot is open again as of November 2010!

This is another long one, so I hope you've set aside some time.  I apologize for the quality of the pictures, but trying to get pics on a camera phone in far from ideal lighting conditions is not easy.

My girlfriend and I are both foodies, albeit of amateur standing, so during the early courting process there was much discussion of favorite foods and restaurants.  She was quick to share that The Melting Pot was one of her absolute favorites.  I'd heard about the place for years, driven by it dozens of times and never knew it was there, and I even knew quite a few people who have been there, but I had never gone myself.  It was one of those places that I always told myself I'd save for a special date night or something, but there have been few truly special dates in recent years, and when I wanted to treat myself to a really extravagant meal, I always ended up going for sushi.  Still, this new girl was really impressing me, so I snagged a few gift certificates (interestingly enough, they are still available for purchase on the site) and filed them away, waiting for the right moment.  As the relationship progressed, it just became accepted that we would go for her birthday.  What we couldn't know was that, after her birthday, they were going to close the restaurant for good.

There was, of course, no correlation between these events.  A couple of weeks ago, The Melting Pot sent out a notice that as of August 16th, they would be closing their doors for the foreseeable future.  My gal was on their mailing list, and she forwarded the information to me.  That night when I got home, we made reservations for the 14th.  The girlfriend was a little bummed about the circumstances, whereas I was just glad we had the advance warning.  It could easily have been one of those places that closes without my ever having tried it at all.  As the "Big Night Out" approached, I had a building excitement about the experience.  I'd only ever tried fondue at home, and I assumed correctly that this would be much different. 

The Wisconsin Trio heating up, apples and mixed vegetables to the side waiting to be dunked

After depositing the children safely with relatives, we headed downtown.  I instantly loved the place, but then I have a thing for strong atmosphere and outdated vibes.  We had chosen an early evening slot to avoid the worst of the flood of humanity we knew would be showing up for the last hurrah, and were promptly shown to a little booth off a hallway.  It was dimly lit save for what can only be described as a small spotlight that shone directly into the middle of the cooktop embedded in the table, where a worn metal pot was set to begin heating up.  Our server, who was absolutely adorable and insanely friendly, took our drink orders (pinot grigio for her, Stella Artois for yours truly), and we sipped and chatted while waiting for him to return.  We had gone for the whole four-course meal deal, so when our server did return, it was to set up our Wisconsin Trio cheese fondue, a rather impressive blend of Fontina, Butterkäse and Buttermilk Bleu cheeses with scallions, white wine and just a splash of sherry.  While that was melting and circulating, bowls of sliced green apples, vegetables and breads were laid out. 

Another shot of the Wisconsin Trio, this time steaming up the camera lens for a kind of cool effect

How to describe this?  We're both HUGE cheese freaks, and this stuff was amazing.  There's a reason that fondue restaurants are usually a little high end and why they keep the lights so low.  There's simply something sensual about hot, gooey foods with strong flavors.  Add some alcohol, a lot of interaction while you coat or cook your foods one morsel at a time and plenty of time for chitchat, and you have a pretty potent mix.  We went through the cheese and our first drinks pretty quickly.  I was particularly fond of the green apple chunks and the pumpernickel bread.

Pumpernickel bread in a melted blend of three cheeses

While we were still working on scraping every edible bit of cheese off the inside of the pot, our salads came up.  I had been excited about it when I ordered, but now it seemed a pale comparison to a bunch of melted cheese and stuff to dunk in it.  Still, it would make a good palate cleanser before the entrée.  The girlfriend ordered the California Salad, an interesting blend of mixed greens, Roma tomatoes, Gorgonzola and walnuts, all topped with a black walnut raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  It was interesting to say the least, when you first bite into it all you taste is raspberry and vinegar, but then the Gorgonzola starts to blend in and balance the whole thing out.  It's nothing I would have ordered on my own, but much better than I would have thought.

The California Salad

I, on the other hand, had decided to take advantage of the Pacific Island theme they had going on and ordered the lettuce wraps.  They came with sliced cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, mint, honey roasted almonds and big leaves of green lettuce to wrap it all in.  There was also a mildly spicy Mandarin orange and ginger dipping sauce.  All in all, an interesting and very refreshing dish, but I was ready for the next course.

Lettuce wraps, no meat or cheese but still very good

Our server returned with another pot.  M'lady had chosen the Coq au Vin broth, which consists of burgundy wine, herbs, mushrooms, garlic and spices.  All of these were mixed and set to boil while the entrees and sauces were explained.  The usual trio of teriyaki, ginger plum and mild yogurt curry was laid out.  We had ordered the main course off the Pacific Island theme menu: teriyaki sirloin, sesame crusted ahi tuna, citrus-infused pork tenderloin, garlic chili chicken breast, kiwi lime shrimp, Spring vegetable dumplings, and just for the hell of it, a lobster tail.

A lot of raw, Asian-seasoned proteins

Looking back, it might not have been the best idea to pair all these Asian flavors with a European broth, but it was still very good.  More sauces accompanied this specialty selection, including a horseradish cocktail sauce, green goddess sauce, garlic butter, a Sriracha aioli, and an absolutely amazing Gorgonzola port sauce that was good on absolutely everything.  There were also some non-meat options, including mushrooms, red potatoes and broccoli that I completely ignored, leaving them for my girl.  She only really digs poultry, so most of this meats were left for me. 

Coq au Vin coming to a boil

I unfortunately did not get good pictures of most of this stuff.  It was simply too dark, and I wasn't about to use a flash.  The pork was good, the shrimp was good, but the sirloin and tuna were really something special.  The sirloin went perfectly with the Gorgonzola sauce, and the Sriracha aioli went with the ahi (which was sushi grade, but still got a quick swirl in the broth) like it was made just for it.

Lightly cooked sesame-crusted ahi with Sriracha aioli

I saved the lobster tail for last, for obvious reasons.  I have to admit I was a little nervous, after all the first time I tried lobster I assumed I didn't like it, but it turned out to simply have been overcooked.  This time I would have nobody to blame but myself, but luckily I was happy with the results.

Lobster tail, fresh from a dip in the Coq au Vin

I was having some mixed emotions at this point.  I was getting full so I was a little relieved, and the broth was starting to take on some interesting flavors due to all the different seasonings coming off in it and mixing, but at the same time everything was so good and varied that I wanted to keep trying little bits of different things in different sauces until I'd exhausted every combination.  But it was time to let go.  I still had a dessert course to get through, after all.  The girlfriend chose the Flaming Turtle, a blend of milk chocolate, caramel and chopped pecans.  Our server was kind enough to block the light so I could get a picture of the mild flambé action.

Where the Flaming Turtle gets its name

If the meat selection was diverse, the dessert selection was downright decadent: little cubes of Rice Krispie Treats, pound cake, brownies, sliced bananas dusted with graham cracker, marshmallows in both chocolate-covered and coconut-covered varieties, a slice of extremely light and fluffy cheesecake with a maraschino cherry on top lightly drizzled in chocolate syrup, and some simply amazing sliced strawberries.

Still life of things about to be dipped in melted chocolate

I was fast approaching the wall, but everything was so good (or at least interesting) that I was having a hard time stopping myself.   The strawberries were easily the best of the available selections.

Duelling strawberries

My girl was on her third glass of wine at this point.  I'd put the brakes on after my second beer, planning on getting one of their Yin & Yang cocktails (Stoli vanilla, Godiva white chocolate liqueur, Crème de CaCao and ice cream topped with chocolate shavings and made to look like its namesake, if you can believe that).  But there was simply no more room.  In my cheese, meat, chocolate and beer stupor, I still had the presence of mind to get a pic of my last bite.

Rice Krispie Treats in chocolate, so unexpected but so good

And just like that, it was over.  I was left with three more coupons that would never be used, a dent in my bank account, a stomach trying to process and a mind trying to understand the wonderfully diverse selection of things I had just bombarded it with.  I'd finally made it to The Melting Pot, and in two days it would be no more (the Boise location at least).  Ah well, probably the best thing for my pocket book.  There's still the Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant here, and if I finally want to tackle that Yin & Yang, there is a Melting Pot in Salt Lake City, not to mention a few dim sum places, noodle shops and a couple of Whole Foods stores.  Might have to plan a weekend road trip sometime soon...

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