Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Melting Pot

It's a fondue restaurant at 200 N. 6th Street in Boise. We went there for a reunion with a number of my wife's former students. This has always been one of those places that we think about, but never get around to going to--and I admit, it's reputation for being pricey was part of the reason we just never got around to it. Of course, I've never had fondue before, so it was worth going just for reasons of curiosity.

And yes, it's pricey. The only more expensive meal that I have ever eaten was at John Ash & Co. in Sonoma County, which has an ambience and reputation that it richly deserves--and even makes a cheapskate like yours truly say, "Okay, not a place to eat very often, but almost worth the outrageous price."

My wife and I escaped for slightly over $100. We ordered the combo that included a pretty awesome salad, fondue, a selection of entrees that you cook at the table in boiling oil, and a collection of sweet things that you dip in molten chocolate sauces. The waitress suggested that since we expected ten people, we should order what is effectively four of the couple combos. One person didn't show, so there was only nine of us, but I would say that ordering three of the couple combos would have been more than sufficient--and maybe even two. There is actually quite a bit of food involved. This would have brought the price down to a reasonable level, that's for sure.

Fondue, for those not familiar with it, is a Swiss dish where various cheeses are melted with wine, beer, various spices, etc. at the table, and then you dip pieces of bread, fruits, vegetables, small unattended pets, etc. into it. I was expecting something a bit more flavorful and exotic; perhaps my taste buds aren't sufficiently sophisticated to get terribly excited by this.

I ordered the California salad, which was the only part of the people that I can say really got me excited--and you understand, I'm not exactly a salad person. But it was a combination of romaine and iceberg lettuce, Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, and raspberry dressing that was pretty impressive.

The entree selection we ordered included a wide variety of bite-sized items, ready for cooking in the various oils. One of them was essentially a coq au vin sauce, the other was a Caribbean inspired combination of spices and flavors. There were chunks of steak, pork, chicken, Jamaican jerk pork, lobster, and shrimp, potatoes, celery, and a few other odds and ends. You use your fondue forks (color coded, so that you can figure out which of the items in the pot belongs to you, and which belongs to your fellow dinner guests) to drop these items into the pot in the middle of the table--and in about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, your item is done.

The concept is really cool. I can't say that any of the results were terribly impressive. Of course, when it comes to fine dining, I'm something of a Philistine. Perhaps others with more refined palates will rave about the results.

The waitress was friendly and helpful in a genuinely nice way rather than, "I will be your server tonight. My name is Chad, and I'm going to pretend to be your friend because this is a fancy restaurant, and if I ingratiate myself enough to you, you'll leave me a big tip." One of the owners wandered over to sit down and say hello--but didn't overstay her "get acquainted and find out what this big group is doing here" visit.

I noticed that much of the clientele seemed to be couples that were dressed like this was a first or second date. I suspect that if you need a place to impress a first date by showing her that money is no object, and that you are sophisticated enough to go some place really different, this might be a good choice.

I would suggest if you feel like doing the fondue thing, take another couple, order enough for one couple (with a couple of spare salads). I suspect that you will walk away with your appetite satisfied, your taste buds educated--and your wallet only lightened a bit more than going out to Carino's or Da Vinci's.

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