Fondues and fon-don’ts

The Melting Pot
1220 19th St. N.W. (between M and N streets)
857-0777
Sunday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.
Friday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight

When you go out to dinner, you usually don’t want to cook your own food. But the Melting Pot in Dupont Circle may change your mind. The fondue franchise found across the United States will surely become your favorite restaurant, as the menu gives many options for dinner for just yourself or fondue meals for two. But this isn’t only bread and cheese. The Melting Pot serves three fondue courses, as well as salad, so come with a huge appetite or you’ll miss out.

The server is crucial to your dining experience because he will teach you about the cooking times for the main course and how to watch out for chocolate that’s too hot to handle on the sides of the pot.

But let’s start from the beginning. The first course is the cheese fondue. Your server prepares it tableside, melting the cheese as well as adding all the seasonings. All first-time “fon-doers” should get the standard Swiss cheese fondue, but for nontraditional fondue, the cheddar cheese is a great choice. The Swiss has just a bit of a kick to it, but if you want something a little wilder, the cheddar is flavored with lager beer, garlic, and other seasonings. After the cheese is left on the burner, you are ready to do the dipping. You have your choice of three different breads cut in chunks, raw carrots, cauliflower and broccoli and slices of granny smith apples. Each cheese fondue is $14 and serves two people, with a $7 charge for each additional person. It’s hard not to fill up on this course, but hold yourself back because there are three to go.

Finish the cheese and put down your fondue fork. It’s time for your salad course, which requires no dipping. There is the normal chef’s salad for the less adventurous and the mushroom salad for extreme fungi lovers. The California salad is a mix of greens, roma tomatoes, walnuts and buttermilk blue cheese. The creamy cheese is perfectly complemented by the salad’s tangy vinaigrette.

When it comes to choosing your main course, the work really starts. After deciding on which of the signature entrees you will enjoy, your server will ask you what kind of cooking style you want. Your best bet is to ask your server which style would best complement your entree. Once the pot of hot broth or oil is brought to your table, be careful – it is incredibly hot, so keep your hands off the pot and away from the burner.

Now your table is covered with a slew of different sauces and garnishes, a bowl of vegetables and some divided plates that will remind you of the cafeteria trays from elementary school. Depending on your entree, you’ll be brought tenderloin, teriyaki-marinated choice sirloin, boneless breast of chicken, pork tenderloin, breast of duck or salmon, all cut into manageable pieces for you to skewer and dip. The shrimp is exceptionally good, but the real surprise of the night is the lobster tail. A large plate of raw meat might gross you out, but be brave. After cooking it in the fondue pot for two or three minutes, you’ll have a new appreciation for the familiar meats. Just make sure you cook it long enough and follow your server’s instructions, or you might end up with a sour feeling in your stomach.

An entree for one costs anywhere from $17 to $23 plus the costs of the three other courses. Your bill should total around $50 for more food than you could ever eat. So a good choice is sharing the surf and turf entree, which allows you and your companion to savor the tenderloin and the lobster tail. Or try one of the “fondue for two” specials. This includes your choice of a cheese fondue, salad and entree courses large enough for two or three people. This will cost $50 to $60 for both of you plus the cost of your dessert fondue.

If the only four-course meal you can afford is from J Street, skip the entrees and just go for dessert – chocolate fondue. The only thing better than a pot full of rich, melted chocolate is fresh fruit and other goodies to dip in it. Fresh strawberries, banana slices, pineapple, cheesecake, marshmallows, pound cake and brownies taste heavenly with the chocolate. And, of course, you have to choose your chocolate. The menu offers pure white, light and dark chocolates, as well as special mixtures such as “Yin & Yang” and “Flaming Turtle” (chocolate with caramel and pecans). If you get s’mores, you’ll also find graham crackers on your plate. If you’ve got $14 in your pocket and a friend who’s having a birthday, take him to the Melting Pot for a wonderful celebratory dessert.

Dinner with a do-it-yourself element and a strong chance of getting a minor burn might seem like punishment, but after experiencing the joy that is the Melting Pot you’ll think the risk is worth it. So make your reservation and head on over for cheese, chocolate and fondue bliss.

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