Melting Pot Restaurant Review
By Don and Peg Doman
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Okay, I admit I was wrong. When The Melting Pot (2121 Pacific Aveneue) first introduced their restaurant in downtown Tacoma I was skepticle. My feelings, echoed by my buddy Donn Irwin, were that when I go to a fine restuarant, I wanted someone else to do the cooking for me. After dining at a Korean Barbeque in Federal Way and now at the Melting Pot in Tacoma, my mind has changed. I'll go with the flow and accept alternate dining experiences.
The Melting Pot has been a participant in Zoobilee for the last two years and will be participating in Zoobilee 2004 on July 16th. Peg and I and probably quite number of people will be thrilled to sample their food at the zoo.
Peg and I parked on Pacific early one Friday evening. Although neither of had eaten there before, we knew that my sister had enjoyed their meals two or three times before. We entered the waiting room of the red brick building and were welcomed by two employees behind the counter. While we waited to be seated I looked in their wine storage room. It's very compact, but looks well stocked.
Manager Dierdre Woodruff met us and ushered us to our booth. Diedre mentioned that dinner at the Melting Pot takes approximately two and a half hours. A cloudy memory of my sister, Marsha, telling us about a wonderful dinner at the Melting Pot and the time involved slowey surfaced. Peg and I should have been more prepared. We had a date to watch a slowpitch game and to babysit two grandkids. Once we mentioned our own time constraints, Diedre made several suggestions. We were melted cheese in her hands. After looking over the menu we decided on the Wisconsin Trio Cheese Fondue, a mushroom salad and the Flaming Turtle Fondue with dark chocolate for dessert.
Our server for the evening was Sean Lila. He was helpful and friendly. He took our order and excused himself. Since we were early diners, we had a chance to observe preparations for another dinner party. Directly across from us was a booth with two burners inset on the table. Our booth and table, designed for four people, had one burner. As we saw the menus, napkins and plates set out for our neighbors we realized that six people would be dining there. They had a wonderful time, also. Some of the group had eaten at the Melting Pot before and they told their friends what to expect.
On the end of each table are the knobs which control the heat for the burners. A one-burner booth has one knob and a two-burner booth has two. There are also banquet rooms which have similar set-ups with removable dividers. There are about forty tables in the restaurant and three banquet rooms.
Sean returned with a bottle of root beer (Thomas Kemper) for me and a glass of wine for Peg. Sean had recommended a wine similar to Liebfraumilch, but a little sweeter. It was an excellent suggestion. Along with the soda and the wine, Sean delivered his ingredients for our cheese fondue. Sean has been working at The Melting Pot for about three months. He enjoys it. He was warm and friendly and funny. When he is not serving at the Melting Pot, he's a principal dancer with Tacoma City Ballet (253-272-4219). We haven't seen him dance, but we probably have heard him. Tacoma City Ballet practices above the Grand Cinema at the Merlino Art Center (508 Sixth Avenue) where we frequently attend.
Sean carefully explained how he was preparing the meal. The Wisconsin Trio Cheese Fondue has a creamy fontina and butterkase as well as buttermilk bleu cheese with white wine, fresh chopped scallions and a hint of sherry. The fontina formed the majority of the cheese and so he carefully placed several tongfulls of that into the pot. He stirred the cheese so it wouldn't burn or clump and then added more.
As Sean prepared the fondue we marveled at how much food there was in the pot. Sean explained that we didn't have to eat it all. Yeah, right. He also explained that cheese at the bottom and at the sides was hotter than then cheese in the center of the pot. This was good news to me as I have tender lips and dislike excessively hot food items. As it was I didn't burn my tongue until I licked the pot when we ran out of cheese.
Along with the cheese came a bowl of bread (French and whole wheat) cubes. In addition to the bread were bowls of fresh vegetables and Granny Smith sliced apples (dipped in lemon juice). The selection of vegetables featured carrots, celery, and cauliflower. Peg's favorite was the celery and mine was the carrots. We both enjoyed the apple slices. No vegetables or fruit was left behind.
Peg and I shared the mushroom salad which contained fresh sliced mushrooms and crisp greens topped with homemade Italian dressing. There were so many mushroom slices on the salad that when the salad was first served we assumed it was a plate of mushrooms for the fondue. Well down beneath the mushrooms were the greens. We did try the mushrooms in the cheese fondue to our satisfaction.
Philoman, the assistant manager, stopped by the table and we chatted with him for a while. The management staff like to talk to their patrons. I like this type of "table-touch" service. Philoman is from Seattle and has lived in Tacoma for two years. He has an apartment downtown. He regularly takes his car to work since he often leaves the restaurant very, very early in the morning. Although, when he knows he doesn't have to stay late he sometimes takes the Tacoma Link to work. Philoman served for many years in Seattle and around the I-5 corridor. He enjoyed serving and says, "I miss most aspects of it." It looked like he enjoys his work as assitant manager as well. He gets to training new servers and make sure they deliver the quality that is expected at a top notch restuarant.
Dierdre joined us again. She is originally from Northern Ireland, but left about thirty years ago. She's worked in London, Wales and Texas. She really loved Texas and would go back in a heartbeat. She came to Tacoma with her husband who is the assistant head football coach at the University of Puget Sound. She has a lovely Irish accent.
For dessert Sean delivered the Flaming Turtle made with dark chocolate. The chocolate had help in melting with a little flambe'. Caramel and chopped pecans were added to the fondue. A plate of sliced strawberries, pineapple, bananas, marshmallows with nuts, brownie and cheesecake was served with the fondue for dipping. The cheesecake was served very cold, so it held up in the hot fondue. Picking a favorite was difficult. I really enjoyed the pineapple and the marshmallow. For Zoobilee they will be serving strawberries with your choice of one of three kinds of chocolate fondue. Yummy, yummy.
Even with our abbreviated dinner menu, it still took us nearly two hours of very enjoyable dining. Dierdre mentioned that if they know people are attending events at the Tacoma Dome or other cultural activities, they try to expedite service to make sure their diners make curtain time.
Customers come from Olympia, Seattle and around Pierce County. The staff strives for a goal of total guest satisfaction. They have a guest comment card that asks for an email address and birthday and anniversary dates. Dierdre loves The Melting Pot. She says, "It's a different concept for me. There are no chefs, no ovens, no hot kitchens. Everything's fresh . . . and we have a great team."
I agree. They do have a great team. Another server introduced himself near the end of the meal. He filled our water glasses. He was just coming on duty. The service was outstanding and the food was excellent. Next time we'll have to try an entree. There are five cooking style selections for flavorful fondue cooking. The Coq au Vin with fresh herbs, mushrooms, garlic, imported spices a hearty Burgundy wine sounds really good, but the other four (Mojo Fondue, Fondue Court Bouillon and Fondue Bourguignonne) sound equally good. We'll just have to see . . .
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