Register Sunday | December 16 | 2018

Why I Hate Fondue

An Evening At the Melting Pot

I hate fondue. People say it's romantic, intimate, ingenious, all that jazz-and really, how could one possibly go wrong with bread, melted chocolate and cheese? I'll tell you how.
I am not a patient woman. It irks me to have to cook my own damn meal in a restaurant; especially when it can't even be prepared all in one go, but instead in annoying little skewered pieces. I suppose I'm bad at it-my timing is always off. I never know when my bite of this-or-that is cooked so I pull it out too early, or I pull it out too late and burn my tongue so that I can't even taste the twenty pounds I inevitably gain going to one of these places.

I never know when my bite of this-or-that is cooked so I pull it out too early, or I pull it out too late and burn my tongue so that I can't even taste the twenty pounds I inevitably gain going to one of these places.
The social strains of fondue also pose a problem. In an era where the art of conversation is lost, to sit and silently stare at each other while hunks of your dinner boil in front of you seems a bit cruel. Even at a restaurant oozing romance and authenticity like Montreal's fonduementale I get antsy and existential, so you can only imagine what I felt like walking into the Melting Pot, a highly successful American fondue restaurant chain. The only thing worth its weight when it comes to fondue is the food and I had my doubts that they'd get it right at this establishment, but my American boyfriend loves the place-so we went.

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Melting Pot (everywhere in the US)

Cuisine: American/Fondue
Price: US$40 per person
(taxes and tip not included)

Drinks: Wine, starting at US$6 by the glass, US$21 a bottle
Vegetarian Option: Yes
Smoking: No

Reservations: Highly recommended

Veronica's Verdict: I still hate fondue ... perhaps more.

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Pottery Barn meets Crate and Barrel doesn't quite do justice to the vibe-think instead, Starbucks does fondue. After a long wait, we were seated at a big yellow booth with a burner at the centre of the table, and soberly instructed by someone resembling a Gap salesperson not to touch it. Drumming our fingers on the burner, we watched a gaggle of polo-shirted fat people in the next booth stare hopefully into their steaming vat. Babies screamed; though I quickly drank my champagne (garnished with a strawberry, a lovely touch), it didn't mute their cries.

We opted for the Fondue for Two, which consists of a cheese course, salad, and the entrée fondue with meat and vegetables. Like any fondue place I've been to, you are able to choose your desired fondue for each course. We selected a cheese fondue composed of beer, garlic, cheddar and Emmenthal cheese, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. We were also given a big basket of cubed bread and, served alongside in small tin army cups, pieces of cut-up apple, carrot, celery, cauliflower and broccoli. The cheese, though it sounded promising, was disappointing and it took far too long to warm up for my taste. By the time it had gathered its heat-and-flavour bearings, we had grimly filled up on bites of lukewarm blandness.

The salad, a Californian affair of spring greens, sliced Roma tomato, blue cheese and crushed nuts, soused in a raspberry vinaigrette, was better. The vegetables were fresh-tasting but they were gloopy with the dressing, which I didn't care for at all; it was frighteningly sugary. I knew my beloved, a sugar fiend, would adore it: "Love this dressing," he said twice. To each his own.

For our next cauldron we chose the coq au vin broth, made with bouillon, green onions and mushrooms, red wine and garlic. Flanking it was a plate of raw bleeding meat (tenderloin, chicken breast, shrimp, salmon) and another of chunky vegetables (potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and zucchini). I stabbed a nugget of beef with one skewer and a mushroom with another and tossed them into the boiling pot. My beloved did the same. We drank our wine and blinked at each other, then at the pot, then at each other once more.

I burned my tongue as usual, but was able to tell that all the meats were quite good, if somewhat lacking in oomph. The vegetables were tastier, save the zucchini (which felt water-logged and just plain wrong)-broccoli and mushrooms in particular respond really well to this method of cooking. Overall however, I'd say that the broth simply wasn't potent enough to really impart any lingering flavour to our morsels. And I'd also say that I just don't care for fondue-never will, perhaps.

Dessert is where I can forgive anyone anything, so long as it's chocolate; and here, of course, I knew it would be.
I do respect it enough however, to appreciate that a chain restaurant simply isn't conducive to the kind of je ne sais quoi ambiance one requires to languidly boil one's own dinner bite by bite. One needs another sort of world for that-an intimate, dimly lit, quiet world; one with soft music, curtains, a discreet server, and a roaring fire perhaps. The Melting Pot was more like Barnes and Noble, its hideously generic atmosphere failing in every way to respect and understand what it is selling. But my boyfriend sure loved his meal, and everyone else seemed ecstatic to be there-so perhaps it was just me.

Dessert is where I can forgive anyone anything, so long as it's chocolate; and here, of course, I knew it would be. It took us an eternity to choose between the Chocolate S'mores, the Flaming Turtle and Bailey's Irish Cream Dream. I just didn't know. In the end, we went with the Yin and Yang-half dark chocolate and half white chocolate artfully swirled into the symbol itself. It is accompanied by a black plate full of goodies doused in powdered sugar-marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, pound cake, brownie bits and pineapple. In the true American fashion of never enough and always too much, there was even a slice of cheesecake in the centre. We ate it all of course-it was delicious. But I forgive nothing.

Veronica Tartley (Mona Awad) has eaten, shamelessly or barely at all, in nearly every city in the world. She enjoys rain, hurling things against walls and walks on the beach. She lives beautifully in an undisclosed location at the edge of the known universe. There, she weeps her mascara tears, churns butter in the old style and listens to French accordion music.