Friday, January 21, 2005

Gluttony and Pacing

As an occasional attaboy, my manager will give out a $50 expense account to individuals on his staff. I was the recipient of one of those recently. If you have read my other postings, you know that my wife I don't go out for sit down meals all that often. So as we had some "free" money, we decided to go somewhere nice.

We decided on The Melting Pot, a national chain Fondue restaurant.

Not giving it much thought, we just showed up with no reservation. We were told there was a fifty minute wait, but we weren't in a hurry and we were looking forward to this, so we waited it out in their lounge. Two excellent, and reasonably priced Margaritas later, we were called to our table.

The menu is thick, mostly covering the amazing wine selection. But we were there for the fondue. We opted for a three course dinner for two, to which we would add desert. There are basically three ways to go: a four course meal, a three course meal, or a la carte.

We started with a cheese course fondue containing Fontina, Butterkasse, and a smidge of bleu cheese. It was served with Veggies, chunks of apple, and of course cubes of various hearty breads. We were off to a good start, but we knew we had to pace ourselves.

The next course was salad. My wife selected the Mushroom salad: a reasonable portion of greens and a mound of thinly sliced, no, shaved mushrooms. Tasty, but the mushrooms were limited to basic button mushrooms. A variety of mushrooms would have made this good salad great. But, again, we were there for the fondue. My salad was the California Salad: mixed greens, slices of roma tomato and red onion with bleu cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I had to remind myself not to eat too much of the salad as we still had the main course coming.

The entree fondue was a platter called the Pacific Rim: Marinated beef tenderloin, duck, chicken and pork along with pot stickers and shrimp. At Melting Pot, you not only choose what food you are going to eat, but how you are going to cook it. There are four cooking liquid choices, we chose the "Coq au Vin" broth. The entree also comes with vegetables and a selection of dipping sauces. We made it through about two thirds of the entree before throwing in the towel. We knew we would have to save space for desert. One would think that fondue would not be something conducive to a doggy bag, but on a whim I asked if we could just cook the leftovers up and take them home. But of course!

It was about at this point that it sunk in. We had to wait when we arived not because all the tables were full, but rather because they strictly limit the number of tables any waiter has at a given time. They limit the seating rate at the great benefit of service. And great service it was! Our waiter was congenial, prompt and attentive all without hovering.

The extra cooking time for the leftovers gave us a little time to "recover" for dessert, for which we chose a dark chocolate fondue with Bailey's Irish Cream. The dessert fondues are served with an assortment of pound cake, marshmallows (coated in oreo crumbs or graham cracker crumbs), and fruit. Like the entree where you can request more vegetables, with the dessert you can request two items from the platter for replenishment, we chose the bananas and pound cake.

The evening has to be chalked up to one of the very best dining experiences I've ever had. So when the bill came, and we had spent just a tick over $100, I didn't even bat an eye. It was worth every penny!

If there was a low point, I'd say it was the salad, but I'm willing to give that it is the least important part of the meal in this case. Sure it works well to cleanse the palatte after the cheese course, but it is probably what they do least well. For a night on the town, and a nice relaxed meal, The Melting Pot is a winner!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Experiences of Dining Out

My wife and don't often dine out. Sure, we grab a bite to eat somewhere if we have errands to run after work, but it's seldon that we go some place to "sit down and enjoy a meal". Last night however, owing to having a gift card that we knew "we really should use one of these days," we decided to go to "The Cheesecake Factory".

After were seated we started looking at the menu, just anyone else would. To my surprise, every other page of the menu was advertising, and not for the restaraunt. Mainly, the ads were for stores in the mall the restaurant is attached to. But ads! I found them to be distracting. They went to such ends to have a consistent look and feel throughout the restuarant, and in the menu, and then they go and shatter it with all these ads!

Did it detract from the meal? No, not really. The food was pretty good, the service prompt but not hovering, and I would have to concede that the price matched the value, at least for the entrees we had. The bill was about $38 for two entrees, two sodas, and a shared desert.

Random Acts of Kindness
When we were seated, there was a gentleman seat at the next table midway through his meal, dining alone. He paid his bill with a giftcard as well. When the waitress brought his reciept back, she informed him that there was still some value on the card. I didn't catch the exact number. He gathered his belongings, put on his jacket, and as he walked by our table he put the card down on it saying, "There's twelve bucks still on there, enjoy!" He didn't even give us a chance to thank him!

With the combination of the two cards, we walked out there having spent just under eight dollars including the tip, plus we both had doggy bags for today's lunch.