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Restaurant Reviews - Jan 2004

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The Melting Pot                                        

The Swede, whose exploits have been documented in this space in the past, showed up back in town recently and stopped by the staff offices to pump some flesh, buss some cheeks, and make clear that she had an interest in being accompanied out to dinner. We were understandably hesitant at first having been burned by her light-switch style personality and come and go attitude in the past but when she said it would be her treat, provided that we agreed to check our journalistic instincts at the door and not ask any questions about where she'd been or what she'd been up to, we decided that sounded fine to us and agreed to transport her up to The Melting Pot restaurant. The Pot is located on the North side of Tucson in the Foothills Mall and we hadn't really heard anything about the place ourselves but found out later from the hostess that, although it is a national chain, they choose not to advertise much and simply rely on word of mouth. The strategy is working apparently because the Swede, whose idea it was to head up there, reported that she had heard about it from "an associate" in a different city. This of course translates to mean that another socialite had mentioned it at some party and the Swede wanted it added to her resume that she was seen sampling some fondue at one of Tucson's latest trendy places. What we ended up experiencing, as we were swept along in her cosmopolitan wake, was a unique and fun establishment that left us full to the gills with rich food and would have left the Swede considerably lighter in the purse had she actually stayed around long enough to pick up the check.

We arrived in a lobby adorned with a tasteful new age waterfall and decorated in what could possibly be called wood tones and informed the hostess when she inquired that we did not have reservations. This seemed to momentarily throw her off before she regrouped, got the appropriate paperwork in order, and escorted us through a mostly empty dining room to a table that, due to the high backs of the booth, made you feel like you'd been seated in some special, secluded spot. In keeping with tradition, we will start by saying that the seats themselves, along with being private, are amply portioned and would be quite comfortable except for the presence of these annoying floodlights that are trained to shine from above directly down upon your pate. We assume that this is deemed necessary due to all the decisions one has to make and tasks to be performed at table during a typical meal but it is off putting none the less. Especially for those diners wearing glasses since the light tends to streak down behind and in front of the lens, intermittently catching any imperfection to produce a somewhat dizzying effect. The Swede, who won't wear spectacles even though at times it seems like she can barely see, seemed far more comfortable then we were under the spotlight and obviously liked the way it sparkled off her dress and tiara. She was no doubt mildly mortified when one of us excused ourselves and went back out to the vehicle to retrieve a ball cap to block the glare but she appeared to be over it by the time the first course arrived. 

There are many decisions to make at The Melting Pot and Linda, our server, seemed to relish explaining all of them. Each table is equipped with a burner in it's surface and the food is served raw so that patrons might dip it, boil it, and fondue it to their own liking. The choices arise in what to dip in what, and how much to spend for the privilege. Typical meals, according to Linda, are traditionally four courses with a cheese, a salad, an entree, and a dessert. Since they offer a deal called "The Big Night Out", which removes much of the guess work by providing house favorites at each course, it seemed like the obvious choice for beginners and was what we selected. The Swede, who adapts chameleon like to any new social situation, drank in the menu along with a Banana Berrie Betweenie (some sort of banana split type drink with tequila) and immediately commenced letting her fingers dance across the menu as she pointed out the various a la carte items she intended to sample. Suddenly though, as Linda tried to pin her down as to what specifically she wanted, The Swede announced that she would just be having another Banana Berrie Betweenie and later, perhaps some dessert.

The first course was a cheese fondue with an essence of spinach and artichoke and was prepared for us by Linda as she related her personal story of how she came to be melting cheeses for people tableside (boyfriend moved to the area to go to law school). She admitted, as she stirred in the mound of shredded cheese, which she said was a Gruyere and Swiss blend, and minced spinach and garlic along with some other spices, that when she first started at The Melting Pot, she had to concentrate so intently on the tableside prep that she wasn't able to interact with her customers. This led the Swede to relate a tale about having trout de-boned for her by a waiter at her table one time and how the fish's head became disconnected and flew into her lap. Someone then remarked that "de-boned must have been a new experience for you" and we all laughed and seemed to be getting along famously. The result of Linda's efforts was a tangy melt which was quite good when dipped out with the chunks of pumpernickel, rye, and sourdough along with the carrots, apples, cauliflower, broccoli and celery provided. Free refills on all veggies and breads with quite an ample amount of cheese left us virtually sated right off the bat even with the Swede's interloping reach. We found ourselves leaning back contentedly and scratching our bellies before the salad course had even made an appearance.

When it did, one of us had ordered the California salad which consisted of mixed baby salad greens, Roma tomatoes, walnuts, and buttermilk bleu cheese, topped with homemade raspberry black walnut vinaigrette dressing and was quite tasty. We also tried the Chef's salad with crisp greens with Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced eggs, smoked ham, and Emmenthaler cheese, topped with a sweet and tangy house dressing which was good as well although not as good as the California. The Swede had ordered a bottle of wine from their extensive selections and began pouring that off and explaining how the point in the evening when we had chosen the "Coq au Vin" broth to cook our entrees in was when she had decided to pass on dinner. With a mouthful of cheesy celery she explained that the choice sounded boring and European. What she would have preferred, she announced, was the Mojo Fondue which was their newest option and was reported by the menu to have a distinctive Caribbean feel to it with a garlic and citrus flair. The menu's description of the Coq au Vin was "a cooking style favored in the French countryside. combining the flavors of fresh herbs, mushrooms, garlic, imported spices and a hearty Burgundy Wine" which the Swede said would end up tasting just like "beef stew." And beef stew was, of course, a little too pedestrian for her refined gullet.

She wasn't completely wrong as it turned out on the stew like prediction but since two of the items for dipping in the broth were marinated tenderloin and Teriyaki sirloin, the choice seemed to not be that outlandish. The problem was that the other two offerings on the platter were Asian Black Tiger Shrimp and Twin Cold-Water Lobster Tails that then had to be boilt in the same concoction and we probably would have preferred the Mojo style for those options. The lobster was a far cry from the Maine variety and tasted almost artificial in it's chewyness but the Tiger shrimp did the stew juice quite proud and was excellent when dipped in any one of the multiple sauces provided. The drill is that a tray of raw meats is presented with spice and marinade along with a side boat of vegetables and you get to place your selected niblet on the end of a fondue fork and blanche it in the boiling pot for the appropriate time. Linda advised one and a half minutes for seafood and two minutes for beef which left us all to have a great time looking at our watches and trying to remember which fork was who's with what on it and when it had gone in. A slotted spoon was also provided, which Linda rightly said would be needed to rescue little giblets gone overboard, especially when the Swede tipped back another half bottle of wine and started just dumping things in to the mix with no fork attached. We had quite a time figuring out how done things were and weren't and needed to be which, we suppose, all adds to the allure of the place. One staffer suggested that having those little hour glass egg timers at the table would be a neat way of helping diners remember what needed to come out when, saying that they could be color coded and all part of the fun. The vegetables, which had looked a little tired when they were delivered raw, boiled up nicely and the mushroom tops and potatoes were delicious when retrieved from the roiling brew. By the time we finished all the tidbits we were completely stuffed and keep in mind the Big Night is only intended for two, not two and a soused socialite with rumored bulimia nervosa tendencies. In any event, as the busser came by to clear away the remnants, make polite senseless chit chat, and remind us that dessert would be along shortly, we realized that another decision lay before us in which chocolate to select.

We opted for melted dark chocolate after some debate since the Swede had threatened to order a second pot all to herself and go sit at another table if we were delivered what we first agreed on which was something called "The Original" that Linda had said was their most popular and was basically like a Reecee's peanut butter cup. From the look on the Swede's face you would have thought Linda had said she'd be bringing a pot of simmering wet dog food for dessert but since the rest of us were so full as it was we let the Swede have her way. The final production arrived with an assortment of strawberries, bananas, cheesecake, pineapple and chunks of pound cake and Linda flambéed it for us so we could toast some marshmallows in the resulting blue flame. The dark chocolate was rich and delicious and an accompanying cognac also hit the spot. We were all agreeing that it had been a fine night out and, since it was a bit expensive, we quite effusively thanked the Swede for suggesting it not to mention agreeing to foot the bill. The Melting Pot had enough good qualities and unique features that we all agreed that we were likely to return again to sample some of the other dishes. And in all likelihood we would have waddled forth from the establishment at that point with warm feelings in our hearts except the evening began deteriorating rapidly just as we were making our move to go. It is worth mentioning however that, other than a possible typo on the menu, what ensued was certainly no fault of the Melting Pot itself. 

The slide from a pleasant dinner back into a more typical Goliard staff evening began as the Swede, who had seemed overly emotional all of a sudden over our words of thanks, abruptly ordered up one last round announcing that we all needed some of that "Glenmotangie" scotch as final nightcap. When one of us, with all the confidence of an avid NPR listener who has often heard the "makers of Glenmorangie" sponsorship bits, laughingly corrected her saying that they were fairly certain it was pronounced Glenmorangie with an "r" and the accent on the second syllable and not "Glenmotangie" with a "t" and the accent on the third, she proceeded to have a complete meltdown. First she stood on her seat so she could see around the room and implored a little too shrilly that someone should "fetch her a menu" in order that she might prove to us that she was a girl who "goddamn well knew her scotches." It turned out, when the evidence was presented by a sheepish bus boy, that with a "T" and not an "R" was indeed the way they spelled it on the menu but when the rest of us insisted that there was no way it was really Glenmotangie and years of collective bartending experience made us sure it was otherwise she became completely unmanageable, and began shouting that she hadn't even looked at the menu and did we think she was the kind of person that would order a "GlenmoTANgie" when she wanted a GlenMORangie. One of us made the mistake of saying that clearly she had read it on the menu since nowhere else on earth was Glenmotangie available (a later google search validated that fact by revealing that indeed, the Melting Pot menu on the web, was the only hit that came up when Glenmotangie was typed into Google). She eventually got herself extracted from the booth somehow even though she had to climb over two people and, after additional histrionics, marched all red faced and stumble bum straight out the front door. We waited around for a bit, figuring when the chill of the night hit her, she would cool off and return but after she didn't show up and it was clear that the help was growing restless with our presence, we finally just paid the check ourselves and took our leave. We haven't seen The Swede since but we gather that she made it back to wherever she came from okay since a man leaning on a pole outside said he had been standing there smoking when he witnessed "a long grandpa style car driven by some kid pull up and whisk this drunk woman in a princess costume away." One of us remarked at the time that it looked like she might be headed for another staff party morning which is something we won't dirty up this review any further by explaining.

All in all however, The Melting Pot was good eats and a fun time and despite dropping a couple C notes for the experience the remaining staffers agreed that it was well worth it. The Big Night Out, considering all that came with it, was actually somewhat reasonably priced at seventy dollars per couple (which could easily feed three) and if we had just settled for water to drink we would have gotten out of there for less then forty clams apiece. The problem is that such rich and tasty food cries out for appropriate spiritual accompaniment and, since the establishment is well aware of this, the wine list takes up ten or so pages of the menu between the appetizers and the entrees and it would take some substantial will power to not order up a glass of something. When and if we return we will probably restrict ourselves to a cheese and a dessert or an entree and a salad since everything together was a little much. It also would be wise to dine with a group of compatible eaters since there is one burner per table and patrons must agree on the sauces and cheeses. In any event we recommend the experience to anyone with the means and would also remind you that if you are the type that can get away with wearing sunglasses or a cowboy hat, or both while dining out you might be well advised to do so.

The Melting Pot
Foothills Mall at La Cholla and Ina
Tucson, AZ
Phone: (520) 575-6358
Hours: 4:30 pm - 11 pm (7 days a week)

Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.