Thursday, June 5, 2008

Melting Pot

305 E. 3rd Street
Austin, Tx
(512) 401-2424

13343 N Highway 183
Austin, TX
(512) 401-2424

Being the good daughter that I am, when Mother’s Day rolled around, I tried to plan a special day to celebrate how awesome my mom is (and I’m not partial, she really is). My mom has done everything in her power to help me succeed in life. Everything from putting me through college (thanks again mom and dad), to driving me half way across America (while I had pneumonia no less) so that I could go on my grade school field from Chicago to Virginia. She always cooks me yummy dinners and had the forethought enough to make me do my own laundry when I was a teenager so I wouldn’t screw it up once I got to college. I could go on and on extolling the virtues of my mom, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear those; you want to hear about where we went for Mother’s Day. We went to, what in my opinion is now, the greatest place to celebrate Mother’s Day – The Melting Pot.

Now when I lived in Fort Worth, high end chain restaurants like The Melting Pot, Simply Fondue, Fogo de Chao (as mentioned in the previous review), etc were de rigueur. Places like that aren’t too bad, in fact they’re usually pretty tasty, but I much prefer my experiences at unique (and non-chain) Austin restaurants. But (and here comes the but), I LOVE fondue. Its one of those foods that’s fun to eat, tasty, and is a great way to spend a long meal with someone (and trust me, when you eat fondue it’s a loooong meal – but more on that in a minute). But more importantly, my mom loved fondue. When she would come to visit me in Fort Worth, we spent many an evening at one of DFW’s many fondue places enjoying a hot of melty cheese or chocolate. So when I heard Austin finally had a fondue restaurant, I immediately knew I had to take my mom there for Mother’s Day. I called up to make reservations the Tuesday before Mother’s Day thinking there wouldn’t be any reservations left. Surely everyone else, unlike my procrastinating self, would have the foresight enough to call ahead weeks in advance to make reservations. Apparently not. I had no trouble getting us a table, I was even able to get us a special table (more on that in a minute too), AND they even offered to put a vase of fresh roses on the table that Mom could take with her. And here’s the best part, because we wanted to have a late lunch, they were offering all this at a special Mother’s Day discounted rate. How cool is that!

The Melting Pot is rather conveniently (or inconveniently) located in the new Convention Center Food District. It’s on the same block as the other quality national chains that broker for Convention traffic: Roy’s, PF Changs, Fogo de Chao, and to a lesser extent Dona Emilia’s. So with all those other options, why would you choose the Melting Pot? Three words: Chocolate Cookie Fondue. But I'll get to that in a minute.

Let me describe how the Melting Pot is layed out. The inside is dark and cavern-like, but tastefully decorated as all high end small chain restaurants are these days. Lots of dark wood and silver. That makes the Melting Pot really special, however, are the individual rooms. Yes, that's right, call ahead for reservations and you too can reserve one of a dozen or so totally private tables. Each room has its own table, complete with fondue burner, and a frosted glass pocket door to separate you from other other low-brow restaurant go-ers (I mean seriously, who wants to associate with those schlubs??). I highly recommend that if you eat here, you reserve one of these rooms just for the novelty of it.

Normally, the fondue operates on a per person prix fix pricing scale. The table chooses one type of cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, and in the middle, the type of entree cooking style. The cooking style is normally oil or a flavored broth. The oil is fun because they bring out a host of batters to cover your meat in, but the broth is healthier and just as tasty (and won't leave you smelling like you just deep fried your clothes). I think they normally have some sort of beer broth, and a more flavorful broth - when we went, it was coq au vin. Mom (who got to choose) went with the coq au vin. Once the table chooses a cooking style, everyone chooses their meat plate. They offer a mixed plate of tenderloin, chicken breast, sausage, shrimp, scallops and veggies that I normally recommend to fondue beginners. But, they also offer more steak, lobster, and veggie options.

Once you have the general outline of the meal figured out, you pick fondue flavors. For the cheese fondue, we chose the "Wisconsin Trio." Having grown up an almost cheesehead, I was most delighted with that choice. The trio was a rich blend of fontina, butterkase, and surprisingly blue cheese with some garlic, wine, scallions and sherry thrown in for good measure. The coolest part about the cheese course is they make it right in front of you. Your server brings out a large tray covered in cheese, and other delectable ingredients, starts the fondue burner and mixes up the cheese while you drool at the smell. Once its warmed up and melted, they bring you bowls filled with a variety of breads, fruits and veggies to dip in the cheese. It was incredible. There's nothing better than cheese, especially if its hot and melty and on top of a crisp green apple. The dippers as we'll call them were all fresh and tasty. No dry, stale bread and drippy cheese like at Cru. This fondue's the real deal.

Once you've gorged yourself on cheese, the server brings out a scalding hot pot of your chosen broth style. When it first comes out, its covered with a clamped on lid and looks something like a medieval torture device. Stay clear of this until your server tells you its safe. You wouldn't want to be a "hot coffee" lap casualty. But once it's safe, you grab your handy color coded skewer - each person gets their own color so you know who's is who's - spear a piece of meat, and start cooking. It generally takes about 2-3 minutes for each piece to cook, so you get a rhythm going, and rotating out through your 3 skewers so you always have tasty food on your plate. Oh, they also bring 4 or 5 different sauces to dip your meat into. The yogurt Curry is the best but stay away from the sweet and sour. Its pretty gross. This was probably the weakest part of the meal. After cooking quality meat in great smelling broth, you want something interesting and savory to dip your meat into. Not just a crappy teriyaki or horseradish sauce.

Added Note: After seeing Lee's comment, it reminded me of the funniest part of the fondue experience. When you lose a bit of food in the fondue broth, you use this big slotted spoon to fish it out. Now this slotted spoon isn't called just anything, it's called the "David Hasselhoff." So we all got a good giggle when we'd lose a piece of chicken in the broth and would have to ask someone to "Pass the Hoff."

Just when you think you're so full you could hardly eat anything else, they bring out.. The chocolate. You're table has to agree upon one type of chocolate fondue, but when you have such choices as Bailey's Milk Chocolate Fondue or Smores Fondue, is anyone really a loser? My mother, in her infinite wisdom chose Chocolate Cookie Fondue. It was a rich dark chocolate swirled with marshmallow fluff with bits of Oreo cookies mixed in. It was incredible. You get a plate of the most decedent desserts to dip in said fondue. Anything from angel food cake to marshmallows to brownies to a slice of cheesecake. Yes you read that right, a slice of cheesecake. I can't think of a more perfect dessert.

The plus about a fondue meal is also the minus. All this extravagance takes about 2-3 hours to complete and really do it justice. Cooking meat in broth in is a time consuming endeavour. But if you've got the time, I suggest you try it at least once. Its fun and tasty and a great way to connect with your family.

Bottom Line: Fun to eat food that tastes great

Mariah - 9.5