“Add Cheese and Dip”

| September 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
A pot of melting and heating ingredients is the signature item at The Melting Pot.

A pot of melting and heating ingredients is the signature item at The Melting Pot.

“Someday, I’ll ask you to marry me!” That was my “romantic” proposal to the wonderful woman who agreed to share her life with me.

It was the ’60s, a time when fondue was the cuisine du jour. Fondue is defined as “a sauce like dish of Swiss origin made with melted cheese and seasonings together with dry white wine in a communal heated pot, usually flavored with kirsch: served as a hot dip for pieces of bread.”

Variations of dipping materials include fish and meat. Oil replaces cheese for cooking the latter. And, for dessert, nothing can replace melted hot chocolate to coat pieces of fruit or even cake.

Items for cooking at stuck to long forks, which are then inserted into the bubbly cooking medium. Yes, diners do their own cooking, but it makes for great sharing and conversation.

My wife-to-be understood that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (especially that of a future food writer) so she occasionally prepared fondue for us to enjoy during quiet evenings. Naturally (and quite crafty), she spiked her cheese fondue with lots of potent “kirsch”, a cherry liquor that adds wonderful flavor to the dish.

Cheese fondue first appeared in cooking literature in Switzerland in 1699. But, even though it was considered the Swiss national dish, it didn’t hit the big time until the 1930s, when it was promoted by the cheese industry to sell more cheese product. It became very popular in the United States in 1964, following its promotion at the New York World’s Fair.

After my kirsch-induced exclamation, my wife-to-be replied, “someday when you ask, I’ll say yes.” She called her mother the next morning to say, “I think I’m engaged.” Now, almost 50 years later, we still joke about it.

Those memories were very much in mind as we enjoyed dinner at The Melting Pot at the Aventine at UTC. It is part of a chain of over 135 restaurants, both national and international, that specialize in fondue. David Cohn, who owns so many restaurants around San Diego, like Corvette Diner and Blue Point, has interests in several, including the one in the Gaslamp.
The location at the Aventine looks deceptive. A small patio at the entrance faces the circular parking area but leads into a long narrow interior before exposing a large and comfortable rear outdoor patio. It looks small but the restaurant has more indoor seating capacity both upstairs and downstairs.

Each table is set with a heating base and a metal pot. The electric base generates enough heat to melt the cheese and chocolate as well as to heat the oil. Raw food, vegetables and chunks of bread are served bite size for easy, fast cooking. Cheese is shredded for faster melting. Large two-tined forks are provided to hold the food in the cooking medium.

Six types of cheeses are available for cooking. They range from basic aged cheddar, with lager beer and garlic, to bacon and jalapeno, served with gruyere, raclette and fontina cheeses. We selected the Classic Alpine combination with gruyere, raclette and fontina cheeses combined with garlic and white wine. That is the fundamental way the dish was prepared.

Entrees – items like salmon, shrimp, sausage, filet mignon, pork, chicken and pasta like ravioli and potstickers – come raw. But they are not to be cooked in melted cheese. Four premium cooking styles – in other words, broths – are offered for that purpose. The free preparation is a vegetable broth. The others are a garlicky “mojo,” a spice-infused red wine and the traditional oil (a tran-fat canola oil). The three non-vegetable bullion media are priced individually.

We selected the free bullion with chicken, salmon and potsticker entrees. It became important to allow adequate cooking time for each different item, including the veggies that came with the entrees. Otherwise, the full flavor of each entree would not emerge. But, the flavor and odor of the vegetable broth was very strong and overpowered some of the entree taste.

Ordering dishes a la carte can become expensive. So, there is a deal — the four course experience. One may order one type of cheese fondue, one type of salad, one entree from a special list, and one chocolate fondue.

The four course entree list offers combinations of individual entrees. For example, “surf and turf” pairs lobster with filet. Steak lovers combines filet with two types of sirloin. Again, these are priced individually.

And then there’s dessert. The menu offers a selection of dark and white chocolates, melted, into which fruits and pound cake can be dipped. Being purists, we opted for the pure dark chocolate that was hearty, both sweet and bitter, coating bits of fruit to create candied bites that brought a perfect close to the evening.

The Melting Pot is casual and fun. Table top cooking can lead to sharing, conversation and laughter. And romance. The final tab (the bill at the end of the meal) can range from moderate to expensive but we experienced excellent, attentive service and had a great time, reveling in the memories of long ago.

Reservations are recommended. Self parking at the Aventine is validated. Valet parking is not.

The Gaslamp location is at 801 5th Avenue. Call (619) 234-5554 for information and reservations. The location at the Aventine is at 8980 University Center Lane. Call (858) 638-1700 for information and reservations.

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