Customers take a dip into fine fondue dining

Share: The Melting Pot brings the once-popular communal cooking method back to Columbia.

Restaurant profile

Howard Live

August 12, 2004|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Melting Pot restaurant in Columbia offers a delectable dip into fine dining. So lush is its mood, service and cuisine that it is hard to believe that the popular fondue restaurant is part of a chain of franchises throughout the United States.

The Melting Pot in Wilde Lake Village Center elevates the fondue pot to haute cuisine, offering a variety of cheese, meat and seafood, and chocolate fondues. Begin and end dinner with a specialty coffee, or sample one of the restaurant's 140 wines.

The Melting Pot offers something else that is unusual in Columbia, said location owner John Snyder.

"We take reservations," Snyder said.

The Melting Pot provides a leisurely two hours for a table for two and three hours for groups of four. "We give plenty of time for families to talk," Snyder said.

The secluded booths with high wooden walls and subdued lighting offer privacy. For families or larger groups, walls can come down to enlarge the seating area. Two party rooms, one seating 28, the other 12, are also available.

The menu

Diners can choose from a four-course meal, or a variety of individual entrees, cheese and chocolate. The fondue is prepared tableside by the server.

Diners can select from four cheese fondues: Cheddar, Swiss, Wisconsin Trio or Fiesta - each comes with bowls of bread chunks, sliced Granny Smith apples and raw vegetables. The cost is $14 for one or two people, $7 for each additional person.

Diners then select a cooking style for the entree - either the Coq au Vin, Fondue Court Bouillon (homemade, seasoned vegetable broth), Mojo Fondue (a Caribbean-seasoned bouillon with garlic and citrus) or Fondue Bourguignonne (canola oil served with the restaurant's signature fondue batters).

Guests cook their own entrees. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Raw foods require different cooking times. Wear a watch; it is easier if similar foods are cooked together so that guests do not lose track of how long food has been in the pot.

Eight signature entrees, ranging from $16 to $24, include the French Quarter (Andouille sausage, shrimp, tenderloin and boneless breast of chicken, rolled in a Cajun spice blend); shrimp and marinated teriyaki sirloin; a seafood trio of shrimp, scallops and fresh fish fillet; and a vegetarian platter with vegetables and spinach and gorgonzola ravioli. All of the entrees come with several dipping sauces.

Couples might like the three-course "fondue for two" - cheese, salad and a choice from three entrees, priced at $50 and $52, or the surf and turf at market price.

Rich desserts

The "Big Night Out" for $74 or $80 a couple adds a fourth course - chocolate fondue. Fresh strawberries, pineapple, bananas, cheesecake, nutty marshmallows, pound cake and brownies can be dipped into melted chocolate. Purists can select either milk, dark or white chocolate, but the indulgent might favor the Amaretto Meltdown, Bailey's Irish Cream Dream or the Flaming Turtle. Parties with children can try the Cookies `n Cream Marshmallow Dream or Chocolate S'mores fondue.

"We have lots of people who just come for cheese and chocolate," said Snyder as he made his rounds greeting guests at each table.

The Melting Pot is a "good special-occasion restaurant," said server Carl Atwell, who has worked there since it opened in April.

For guests celebrating an anniversary, a special package with balloons, a chocolate bar and a digital picture of the couple placed in a frame can be purchased for $18.99. Other packages are available for different occasions.

The restaurant also sells individual bars of its fondue chocolate, salad dressings and seasonings.

The Melting Pot is at 10451 Twin Rivers Road, Wilde Lake Village Center, Columbia, 21044. Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are recommended. 410-740- 9988. Cash, VISA, MasterCard and American Express are accepted. For menus and locations: www.meltingpot.com.

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