Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot opened in Towson sometime in the 90s, and I managed to avoid eating there up until recently, when I thought it might be a good idea to take advantage of their $30.11 four-course Restaurant Week deal. Mr Minx had never cottoned to the idea of eating three courses of fondue, but after realizing we could try it for a reduction on the regular rather-ridiculous price, he was game.

Right off the bat, things got off on the wrong footing. The hostess actually seemed annoyed that we walked in while she was doing Something Very Important (scribbling on a scrap of paper, possibly her phone number for the bartender) and made us wait by the entrance until she was done. During our wait, I noticed a foul stench in the air...a stink that reminded me of Lipton Cup-a-Soup in the noxious "Spring Vegetable" flavor, a regular 49-calorie lunch in the early 90s when I starved myself in order to lose 60 lbs. Dehydrated vegetables possess a fragrance that should never be inhaled in a restaurant with prices like the ones charged by The Melting Pot. Nor anywhere else, for that matter.

Eventually, the hostess completed her Very Important Task and took us to our table in the back room.

I had heard that The Melting Pot was a romantic restaurant, great for celebrating à deux. Rather than putting me in the mood, the Industrial Teal-colored walls with very little adornment, exposed ductwork on the dark-painted ceiling, and dark wooden high-backed booths, not to mention the baby screaming in the background, gave me a strong sense of depression and a real lack of confidence in the meal to come. Our waitress presented herself and asked if we had been to TMP before. When I said we had not, and she began a litany of dinner options for those of us who may be too lazy/stupid to read the menu, I promptly interrupted her to announce that we were interested in the Restaurant Week menu. Immediately she tried to upsell us to the "Big Night Out" that starts at $80 per couple, but we were not moved.

Eventually, she brought out a heavy metal saucepan and set it on the table's built-in burner to heat up while she fetched the ingredients for our Swiss cheese fondue. The fondue was prepared tableside by our waitress and seemed to contain traditional ingredients -  white wine, garlic, the cherry-flavored brandy called Kirsch, lemon, nutmeg. After prepping the cheese, she put down our dippers: a basket of soft bread bits; a ramekin holding about half a chopped Granny Smith apple; and a similar ramekin containing three or four small broccoli florettes, a few pieces of cauliflower, and some broken baby carrots.
Swiss cheese fondue. Notice the minute cup of vegetables to serve 2.
Because the preparation seemed so traditional, I was momentarily encouraged. Then I tasted it. Either the wine was really cheap or the Kirsch was really rubbing alcohol, because what should have been mellow cheesiness was sharp and harsh and bitter. The apple turned out to be the best dipper of the bunch, because its strong fruity flavor masked some of the bitterness. The bread, on the other hand, was squishy, un-crusty, and wholly uninteresting; I imagine that the cheddar cheese fondue option is probably a lot like Velveeta and Wonder Bread, only not as tasty.

"Court bouillon" with six "roasted garlic" shrimp, six chunks of
 "peppercorn" NY Strip, six chunks of chicken "Provencal,"[sic]
and four ratatouille and goat cheese ravioli.
After the cheese, we received what was called a "Caesar salad" - romaine and commercial croutons glopped with too much flavorless dressing and topped, weirdly, with sugared pine nuts. WTF?

For the entrée fondue, we received a pot of liquid that we were told was a "court bouillon" (of course pronounced "court bull-yun" and not the French "cor' bwyon" or even "coo bee on" as the Cajuns say). The source of the nasty soup-mix aroma I had noticed at the entrance, the "bouillon" was chock-full of dried vegetable pieces and a surfeit of black pepper. I was almost afraid to dip the raw food in, for fear that it would pick up the flavors of the broth. But I need not have worried - each of the proteins had been pre-flavored, and we were additionally presented with six different sauces, presumably to kill the taste of the bouillon.

While the portion size was laughably small (see caption above), I was somewhat grateful there was not more. As I suspected, one round of fondue is cute, two is tedious. Overall, the flavors were fine, certainly much better than the previous course, and I particularly liked that quickly-cooked shrimp and beef were extemely tender. The chicken, well, it was typical chicken breast. "Meh" would be an apt description.

"Flaming Turtle" fondue served with diabetic delight.
After what seemed like forever (2 minutes cooking time for pieces of meat, 1.5 minutes for seafood and veg, an extra "just in case" minute because the three proteins were touching on the plate), we concluded cooking our tiny bits and were brought our final course, the "Flaming Turtle" fondue. Our waitress prepared this fondue by mixing pecans with chocolate and caramel sauces and then setting them aflame, much to the consternation of my eyebrows. To dip into this vat of roiling corn syrup we were given a selection of other sugary substances: cheesecake; rice krispie treats; bits of brownie; pound cake; marshmallows coated with Oreo or graham cracker crumbs; and (mercifully) some fruit--four slices of banana and six slices of strawberry. After about three bites, the heart palpitations started and I gave up. Not only was it too sweet, but it was all very commercial-tasting, like Little Debbie cakes and Smucker's sauces.

What a disaster. I really don't understand how people can like this place. The food is just not good, and the service wasn't much better. And why are prices so high when, 1) portions are small; 2) the kitchen doesn't even do any cooking? Ok, I know you're thinking, "she's a food snob, with a built-in prejudice against chain restaurants like The Melting Pot." But you'd be wrong - I love me a Chik-Fil-A sandwich, have had many tasty meals at The Cheesecake Factory, and enjoy a burger from Red Robin or Five Guys every once in a while. And technically Roy's Hawaiian Fusion is a chain, but it is also one of my favorite restaurants. So it's not the chain restaurant aspect at all. It's the fact that The Melting Pot has a gimmick, one that seems to be enough to sustain the place without the food having to taste good, too.


The Melting Pot
418 York Road
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 821-6358

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