Marathon Dinner: Melting Pot

Fondue, whether savoury or sweet, is definitely not something I grew up with. It’s been a novel concept that I’ve experimented with recently as a fun alternative to an entrée-based meal, but not something I’ve thoroughly explored.

That said, I was really curious to try Melting Pot, a US-based chain that opened its first Canadian franchise location in Edmonton back in March. Based on some of the comments on their Facebook group, many within and outside of the city were holding their breath in anticipation of the restaurant, and were disappointed it wasn’t opening sooner.

We met Bruce and Sarah at Melting Pot last Saturday. It’s not the best location, in a strip mall off Calgary Trail (next to Cora’s), in terms of public transit accessibility or ability to see it from the freeway. Our server later told us that most Melting Pot branches are similarly placed, off the beaten path and never in a standalone building.

The surroundings are immediately forgotten upon stepping foot inside the restaurant, however, accented by a modern fireplace, sleek lobby furnishings, and a glass cube wine case.

Wine case

As mentioned in the Journal review, the dining room is built like a labyrinth. While some seating areas are more open (like the one we were eventually led to), in a journey to locate the washroom, I wandered through several dim corridors and past booths tucked at an angle that promote intimacy like none I’ve seen before. And while I wouldn’t consider cheese fondue to be the most sensual dish, in the privacy of your unseen booth, I suppose it could be.

Our four-top was located in the lounge, with a full view of the bar, and ended up being a better place to be, noise-wise, than the adjacent dining room that housed several large groups. A single induction burner was set into the centre of the granite countertop, and thus could only accommodate one pot. It meant that save for ordering a salad, everyone in the party had to agree on the selections of savoury and sweet fondues.

Thankfully, the four of us were on the same page, and weren’t beset by allergies that would impact our options. We were told that Melting Pot had a feature menu that would change every six months. The current theme was “Pacific Islands”, highlighted in their Big Night Out four-course meal, which included a cheese fondue, a salad, a savoury fondue, and a dessert fondue. Prices ranged from $90 to $106 per couple, depending upon the inclusion of lobster tails. Our group chose the mid-range option dubbed Fondue Fusion ($98), though we could have substituted a fondue type off of the regular menu as well.

The Feng Shui cheese fondue was prepared tableside. Our server handily combined a generous pour of white wine (copious amounts of wine were a pattern that night), mirin, sake, Gruyère and horseradish and chive Havarti and stirred it until it formed a creamy consistency. We were offered a selection of dippers, including bread, apples, and vegetables. The alcohol content was more apparent on the vegetables (which all needed to be blanched) and bread, so the clear favourite dipper were the apples, with their sweetness cutting through the tang of the alcohol.

Feng Shui Cheese Fondue

The feature salad was lettuce wraps with cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, mint and almonds with a spicy orange-ginger dressing. Though it was a refreshing combination following the dense, heavy cheese course, we agreed it was probably an unnecessary filler.

Lettuce Wraps

The main course was a sight to see, a jumble of sectional plates, brightly-coloured sauces, cutlery and billowing smoke from our fondue pot. We had chosen the Coq au Vin, which again, was prepared tableside, and featured a hearty splash of burgundy wine, fresh herbs, mushrooms and garlic (at this point, Mack remarked at how this was essentially a version of hot pot). As the mixture heated up, our server noted rough cooking times for our various proteins (lobster tail, sesame crusted teriyaki sirloin, citrus infused pork tenderloin, sushi-grade ahi tuna, garlic chili chicken breast, kiwi lime shrimp) and identified the seven accompanying sauces we had at our disposal. No doubt about it, the servers at the Melting Pot had a more demanding job than servers at other casual upscale chains.

Coq au Vin Fondue

It was definitely a fun process, cooking up the various items and experimenting with different sauce combinations. The cream cheese-based green goddess sauce was a big hit with Bruce and Mack, while I was partial to the yogurt-based curry sauce. Mack, surprisingly, liked the ahi tuna the most, and I really enjoyed the dumplings, but what amazed me the most was how forgiving all of the items were in the event of overcooking. Between the prep of the proteins and the sauces, I could see how Melting Pot can justify their prices – many are willing to pay for the convenience and hassle-free experience they provide.

Cooking with wine

Sarah and I took care of the dessert fondue selection, though it was actually a really difficult choice (oreo? amaretto?). We ended up with the Ying & Yang, a basic mix of white and dark chocolate.

Ying & Yang Chocolate Fondue

Between moments of intense enjoyment (featuring strawberries, bananas, pineapple, cheesecake, marshmallows, pound cake and most of all the brownies), we all agreed that this was the best course of all. The chocolate was smooth and decadent, and not overwhelmingly sweet. It was unanimous that this fondue alone was worth returning for, and could make Melting Pot Edmonton’s best dessert destination.

The dessert spread

By the time we licked the chocolate bowl clean, four hours had passed. No, that isn’t a typo – four hours had passed. Of course, we were doing our share of conversing during dinner, which made for a great evening (and the pacing meant we were comfortably and not uncomfortably full), but we learned that choosing the Big Night Out meant committing several hours of time to the restaurant. Though some patrons may visit for single courses, we figured the majority of their business was the four course bonanza, and wondered how busy it would be on most weeknights. Regardless, I would highly recommend the dessert fondue at the Melting Pot, and the restaurant itself for a unique dinner experience.

Melting Pot
#117, 2920 Calgary Trail
780-465-4DIP (4347)
Monday-Thursday 4:30-10pm, Friday-Saturday 4-11pm, Sunday 4-10pm

The Cooking Chronicles: Chocolate Fondue Night

Annie graciously hosted a chocolate fondue party on Sunday night, something she has been wanting to do for some time.

While Janice and Annie cut up fruit we had purchased that afternoon, I got to work on preparing the chocolate base in a double boiler. Using Rachael Ray’s recipe as a guide, I melted together milk chocolate melting wafers, squares of dark chocolate, some whipping cream, and a dash of Baileys. Having never tried chocolate fondue before, I wasn’t sure what consistency to aim for, but as we could add chocolate and/or cream to the mixture anytime, I wasn’t too concerned. I transferred the concoction to the ceramic fondue pot, and surrounded by bowls of fresh fruit, cookies and sweets, the dessert looked positively inviting.

Count me surprised that the tiny tealight was able to keep the mixture bubbling, even to the point where we were able to easily melt in more chocolate to top off what we had. Between the strawberries, cantaloupe, bananas, peaches, and apple slices, I liked the latter fruit the best – the crunchy texture suited the dipping exercise nicely. Chocolate-dipped Teddy Grahams weren’t bad as well, though the chocolate-chunk coated cookies were a bit too sweet, even for me. The fondue experience was not only fun, but I ended up feeling more full than I expected – it turns out one can eat quite a bit when everything is coated in chocolate.

Thanks Annie for hosting the party!

The spread

Annie posing with Black Cat Riesling (I bought it more for the novelty bottle than the wine itself)

Janice multitasks (again! and she was on call too!)

May and Janice

Me and Annie