I woke up thinking about restaurant reviews. “I’ve never written a restaurant review,” I mumbled to myself before removing my anti-grinding night guard, struggling mightily with all the ‘r’ sounds.
Most dining establishments I frequent don’t warrant reviewing. The greatness of California Pizza Kitchen, Baja Fresh, Panera Bread and Pavolo’s Pizza is universally accepted. But I recently consumed a meal that demands a recap. The Melting Pot, a restaurant I grew to love in Raleigh and Atlanta, has put down roots in Whippany, New Jersey, forever altering the Whippany culinary scene. Last Friday at 5:30, with my wife, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, I dug in for a three-hour fondue festival.
Let me run you through the courses. We started with two pots of cheese fondue — cheddar and swiss. I should note that six is the ideal party size, because you’re upgraded to a table with two built-in cooking stations. Two people for one station also works well. In groups of four, however, the single pot gets crowded, breeding an unspoken hostility. And that can be dangerous with all the boiling liquid and metal skewers.
Back to the meal. Cheese fondue comes with cubed bread, various vegetables and sliced green apples. While I’m a rabid vegetable fan, they don’t do anything for me in this context. No matter. The bread and apples admirably shoulder the load.
Next comes the salad. I’ve only ever eaten the Mushroom Salad. Under no circumstances do I see myself straying. If a mushroom shortage forced this salad into hiatus, I’d sit this course out. It’s a respect thing, like not parking in your neighbor’s driveway just because they’re on vacation.
And now to the main course. After disconcertingly brief instructions on how to not get salmonella, we skewered up our meats and cooked our dinners. My sister’s boyfriend likened the experience to Kramer’s bake-your-own-pizza parlor idea (“It’s all supervised!”) This was not an endorsement of Michael Richards’ views.
Some diners just show up for dessert (and wine — there’s an extensive wine list, at least by Route 10 standards). It’s pretty amazing. You’re dipping strawberries and bananas and pineapple and marshmallows and pound cake and cheesecake into melted chocolate. If you dislike or are allergic to chocolate (is that an allergy people have?), you’ll want to skip this segment and pick up a pint of ice cream on the ride home.
The long meal, novelty of cooking your own food and high price would make one think it’s a good date restaurant. Take caution. Three hours is a long time to sit with anyone. Lucky for me, our group can talk and talk (and talk). Unless you have more than three hours of material, it might be best to hold off until your next relationship.