My sister, Katy, loves to ask this question about what your top 5 most memorable meals have been. There are no requirements for the type of meal – it can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack – and it doesn’t matter whether you were dining in or eating out. I still haven’t made it to my top 5 yet, but I just got to add #3 to my list last weekend.
My family occasionally had fondue for special occasion dinners when I was growing up. It was always something I looked forward to and thought was fun, but looking back, it was a pretty basic meal. I remember that we always had steak and chicken and we cooked them in oil. We used simple dipping sauces like Heinz 57 and A-1 Steak Sauce. I’m sure we had sides, too, but to honest, I don’t remember them. Maybe potatoes of some sort…??? For me, the fun was in the main course. I loved skewering the meat onto those long forks with the colored knobs on the end so you know whose is whose. When I’d check on the progress of the cooking meat, sometimes the oil would sputter and a droplet would land on my hand and make me flinch in a momentary state of pain. But then I’d be right back at it to get my next piece of meat cooked.
It wasn’t until my brother, Ben, started dating his now-wife, Heather, that I realized fondue could be more than meat cooked in oil. Heather’s family is famous for fondue and particularly the cheese variety. Heather made us a cheese fondue in Ben’s apartment when I was in high school and at the time – no offense Heather – I really didn’t like it. The cheeses seemed heavy and overt and it was made with wine. I couldn’t stand the smell of wine at the time, so I was sure that was part of the reason I didn’t like the taste of the fondue. My palate has definitely matured since then and now I really enjoy both the smell and taste of wine. (Maybe not as much as my mom, though. As a side note – last summer, we were dreaming up a t-shirt for my mom that would say, “I love wine” on the front, maybe in the same style as one of those I ❤ NY t-shirts. The back of her wine shirt was going to say, “But, I HATE texting.” Random, yes, but very funny for her children.)
My palate has matured in more ways than simply enjoying wine. Over Christmas vacation in MI this year, we had a family feast of fondue including oil, cheese, AND chocolate. It was quite the event and really yummy so it got me thinking about an interest I had last year in trying out the Melting Pot for my birthday. Ultimately, I ended up having pasta out at these AWESOME restaurant called Bizarro last year. Since I was still thinking about Melting Pot this year, Kyle and I decided to lock it down and make reservations for my birthday.
I studied the menu for several weeks prior to my big day. At first I was trying to decide if it would be worth it to do their 4-course dinner combination (in honor of Valentine’s Day) or if we would just end up ordering things a la carte. We ultimately decided upon the latter and took the good money saving advice from our [really amazing] server on how to get a little bit more meat (by purchasing a side order) so we only needed to buy one entrée to go along with our cheese fondue, bottle of wine, and chocolate fondue.
So – this is what we ended up with:
- The Wisconsin Blend for our cheese. It had fontina, another cheese I hadn’t heard of, and then bleu added in at the end. It was served with veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower), granny smith apples, and bread (rosemary, white (I think) and honey wheat).
- One Cesar Salad (that came with our entrée.) It had Parmesan crusted pine nuts on it, which I’d never had before! And – our server had it split for us onto two plates. We didn’t even have to ask him to do that.
- The Filet Mignon Entrée with the Coq au Vin cooking style. The entrée came with Portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and a vegetable bowl containing red potatoes, button mushrooms, and broccoli. We also got a side of chicken. The dipping sauces included one that was sort of a like a sour cream/herb dip for the veggies, a gorgonzola sauce for the filet, and then a trio of extra sauces including teriyaki, sweet and sour, and a curry sauce. They were all super tasty.
- The Original Chocolate Fondue, which had a touch of peanut butter swirled into it. The dessert comes with strawberries, bananas, cheesecake, brownies, pound cake, rice krispie treats, regular marshmallows and chocolate marshmallows.
It was INCREDIBLE. I should have had a clicker counter to find out how many times I said things like, “MMMmmmm.” “Oh man!” And “This is sooooo good!” I felt like Bob on the movie, “What About Bob?” At one point, Kyle got up to use the restroom, and I realized while he was gone, that I was continuing to make all of those audible noises while eating. Kyle kept trying to ask what exactly was so good about it and I think it was a number of things. First of all, it did taste delicious. It was a yummy combination of flavors that I don’t typically make at home, so it seemed like a genuine treat, even though the meal as a whole was composed of very simple and straight forward ingredients. (That is, by the way, my favorite type of cooking – turning simple, straight forward ingredients into combinations that make your meal feel like an intricate and beautiful feast of alluring flavors.)
In addition to the tastiness of the Melting Pot, you have to admit that the ambiance is overwhelming important. When you’re there with one person – who happens to be the love of your life – in a cozy booth built for two, your dining experience quickly turns into a personable and private meal. We were actually tucked away around a corner back by the door to the kitchen, but we had a view down the short hallway to the area where larger parties were dining. I could tell that looked just as fun, but in a totally different way. I would definitely consider going back with a group sometime when I’m looking for a fun and festive dining out experience.
The number one reason that I loved this meal enough to add it onto my list of most memorable meals is the pace of it all. I loved that everything we ate was already bite sized so there wasn’t any temptation to stuff large quantities into your mouth and spend what feels like eternity chewing so it breaks down to a small enough size that you can gulp everything down in a swallow (or three). Eating in small bites encourages you to truly taste and enjoy your food. I like lingering over meals, too. While “TV dinner night” have their place in life, my favorite part of meals these days is the community aspect of it. It’s the time spent talking around the table, even after the food is all gone, that is so important and life giving. Since slowness is expected at the Melting Pot, and you don’t feel any rush to leave so you can open up your table for the next set of diners, it’s an ideal place to really hunker down and savor the experience. So, savor we did.
Oh – and the cherry on top?? They brought out a special little dessert plate for me along with the rest of the chocolate fondue. It had three chocolate dipped strawberries ( one white, one milk, and one dark) and another couple brownie chunks with a candle in one of them. Apparently the surprised look on my face was priceless. J What a treat!!
So – there you have it. The Melting Pot Dinner for my 28th birthday has officially gone down in the record books as one of my top 5 meals.
(One of these days, I’ll try to remember to describe the other two meals that I have officially deemed most memorable. They include Mama’s Fish House in Maui from our honeymoon trip and the Waffle House in Tennessee on the road trip that Katy and I took to meet our parents in Florida for Spring Break one year. The Waffle House story might prompt me to also write about a recent experience that Kyle and I had at IHOP for breakfast and the bookend experiences on either side of that meal – church beforehand and the asian market after the meal.)
Oh – and another fun thing: I get to go out for Italian again this year for my birthday celebration with Kyle’s parents. We’re checking out a little neighborhood joint, right down the street from our house called Café Piccolo.