Dinner at the Melting Pot
The long, narrow space resembles a cave, its grottoesque feeling bolstered by granite on the tables, slate on the floor, and deep booths off to the sides. The rear is illuminated by lighted wine racks behind a glass wall, and by small hanging lamps whose colored-glass globes streak the walls eerily, like the northern lights. Built-in electric induction cookers (which heat the pot rather than the cooktop) add a campfire element.
The plastic-sheet menu includes a decent wine line. It's clear the people who run the Melting Pot chain have taken care with their wine selection-in addition to well-chosen bottles, they offer many quaffable wines by the glass. They've taken care, too, with educating their servers, who, to judge by our visits, know the menu from cover to cover.
As in a Japanese steakhouse, there's showmanship here-but at the Melting Pot, the guests are part of the theater. The server brings the fondue ingredients, mixing them in a stainless steel pot. The traditional cheese fondue starts with a splash of white wine and a dose of raw chopped garlic, followed by grated Gruyère and Emmentaler, which is carefully stirred as it melts (fondue is French for "melted"). The mix is finished with a squeeze of lemon juice for tanginess, grated nutmeg, and, finally, a hint of Kirschwasser swirled around the edge of the bowl. Then the diners take over, grabbing one of the small spears, stabbing a piece of bread, dunking it in the melted cheese, swirling, twisting, removing, and devouring. It is their duty to keep stirring the cheese-ideally, with each dip-because it needs that regular motion to stay supple. The setup encourages tiny spear fights and minibattles for the best position in the pot.