Monday, July 28, 2008

Review: The Melting Pot

Sunday was my mother in law's birthday, and we traditionally celebrate by going out to eat. This year she chose The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant that just opened up last week in Crossgates Mall (where the old Hooters used to be). My MIL was quite diligent about discussing the menu and our special dietary restrictions with the staff at the Melting Pot - we were very impressed by the awareness of the chef she talked to, discussing the use of a separate burner for my husband's food, the particular menu items that were safe and those to avoid, the fact that they'd give extra veggies for the cheese fondue in lieu of bread, even asking for the name of the diner with a gluten free diet. We were looking forward to an enjoyable, gluten free evening.

Unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant, we were not impressed by our waitress. Now, I have to clear the air here. I waitressed all throughout college. It's a great job for a student, and ever since my waitressing days I really feel for servers in restaurants. I feel that 20% is the minimum tip unless the service is completely terrible, I go out of my way to be nice, especially when they are quite obviously new at the job, and while I do now make special demands (of course, due to the gluten free diet) it's not like I'm a starts-with-a-B-and-rhymes-with-witch here. That said, I have to say that - even keeping in mind the fact that she was very obviously new and nervous - our waitress was by far the worst server I have ever had. She consistently forgot items every single time she came to the table, consistently forgot to double check with the kitchen regarding whether certain menu items contained gluten, and took a minimum of half an hour to bring drinks, food, whatever to the table. I was not impressed.

Anyway. We started with a cheese fondue course - they made a gluten free cheddar cheese fondue for Vince, and the other fondue was a spinach artichoke. Something was off with the cheddar cheese fondue, and unfortunately while we eventually found out the spinach artichoke fondue was gluten free, it took 45 minutes to get that information to us and my husband ended up saying the heck with it and not trying that fondue. It came with bread, green apples, and an assortment of veggies. I had baked a loaf of gluten free Italian bread that afternoon and snuck some in my purse, so Vince at least did get some bread with his cheddar cheese fondue.

The next course was the salad. We had our choice of salads, and while I don't remember what his parents ordered, I know that Vince ordered the house salad and I had a California Salad that was very good.

For our third course, Vince's parents shared their Big Night Out dinner that included a selection of different meats - filet mignon medallions, jerk seasoned sirloin, vanilla rum chicken, marinated pork tenderloin, zesty peppered shrimp, butternut squash ravioli, and fresh vegetables. Vince had their seafood trio, which included white shrimp, scallops and fish filet, and I ordered their land and sea entree, which featured Balsamic-marinated sirloin, marinated chicken breast and white shrimp. Our entrees also included veggies. We had a boullion-based broth, and Vince's fondue pot was straight up canola oil (which, truth be told, I preferred to the seasoned oil).

Finally, we chose dessert. My in-laws chose the Banana Foster chocolate fondue that came with the Big Night Out entree, and we also chose a Special Event fondue with white chocolate and amaretto. The chocolate fondue came with plates of goodies: strawberries and banana slices, cheesecake, pound cake, rice krispie treats, oreo-and-graham-cracker covered marshmallows, etc, all topped with cinnamon. Unfortunately most of the fruit on the plates was cross-contaminated with gluten, and after a half hour wait - and eight dollars - our waitress brought over a pathetically small plate consisting of two strawberries and three or four small slices of banana for Vince on a separate place. Fortunately, he's not a huge fan of white chocolate - and can't eat the other chocolate - so it wasn't a big deal to him.

Overall, the food was tasty, but tried a little too hard for my taste. I grew up with fondue meaning canola oil, sterno, and meat and veggies so that part was very nice, but I also grew up with chocolate fondue meaning chocolate and fruit, none of the cakes and other desserts that are just too sweet for my taste. Cheesecake is decadent and fattening enough without drowning it in chocolate! Also - though I partially blame our waitress for this - we got to the restaurant at 5 PM and left at 9 PM. We expected to be there 2-3 hours, but that was kind of ridiculous - the poor puggle had her paws crossed by the time we got home!

My take on the Melting Pot - it's a great idea and, despite the issues with their service, it was an interesting experience and the food is quite good. However, it's extremely expensive, we felt nickeled and dimed the entire evening (seriously - eight dollars for two strawberries and a fifth of a banana? Not to mention charging for dipping sauces that they bring automatically), and plan to spend several hours at the restaurant. I'd probably recommend waiting a while before going and letting them sort out the issues with their service. However, we're glad that we went to celebrate MIL's birthday, but the next time we do fondue will be at home.

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