Friday, April 28, 2006

Delectable Dipping

As promised, a sumptuous study of the Pamphlet's anniversary dinner at The Melting Pot on the Plaza.

First, we absolutely never go anywhere near the Plaza under normal circumstances. So just driving there at all already starts to make the evening feel special. Couple this with an absolutely gorgeous sunny afternoon, the giggly high of having just spent a couple of hours at Dave & Buster's having silly fun, and you have a recipe for a dinner that can't go wrong.

We sit down to dinner in a comfy dimness lit by candles and well-spaced subtle lighting. The novelty of the upcoming meal has me almost giddy, which makes Blue laugh at my cuteness. It feels like when we were first dating. We choose from the menu the only appropriate option for two lovers experiencing fondue dining for the first time: The Big Night Out, a full-fledged four-course meal for two at one convenient and reasonable price. It consists of a cheese fondue appetizer, choice of salad for each person (so we don't have to negociate a dressing/greens compromise), meat or vegetarian main course, and a bowlful of bliss chocolate fondue dessert. So let us begin.

For our appetizer I selected traditional Swiss cheese fondue, made tableside by our talented and not-enough-to-be-annoyingly conversational waitress. White wine goes into the pot, followed by a tiny spoonful of chopped garlic, a sprinkling of fresh ground pepper, nutmeg, fresh squeezed lemon juice, kirschwasser, and heaps of finely grated Gruyere and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses. It melts into something that makes my mouth water almost immediately, and we are presented with a tray of dippables: chunks of French, dark rye, and one other bread, green apples, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. Our favorites were the breads and the apple chunks. To round out our romantic evening, we each select a cocktail to enjoy with dinner: for me a raspberry martini, for Blue a Yin-Yang Martini. His is practically a dessert of ice cream, Stoli Vanil, Godiva White Chocolate, and Creme de Cacao, topped with milk chocolate shavings that form the chinese symbol on top of the drink, with a white chocolate disk as the counterpoint. He let me have a couple of sips, and it was divine! I must confess that my raspberry martini fell far short of expectations that are extremely high after being introduced to that particular drink at J. Gilbert's where it is smooth and absolutely delicious. The Melting Pot's version didn't have enough vodka and so it was reminiscent of raspberry cough syrup. But that's my only complaint of the entire evening. :)

On to the salad course. Blue takes the Orchard salad, an eclectic mix of greens I tend to think of as "yard weed salad" topped with walnuts, white raisins, apple chunks, and a creamy ranch-like dressing with some sort of cheese neither of us can remember now. He says it was really good, but it wasn't my sort of thing. I chose the Chef salad sans cucumber, and loved it. Regular lettuce greens, slices of roma tomato, sliced boiled egg, chunks of ham, emmenthaler cheese, topped with the tangy-sweet House dressing that I would describe as some sort of very mild and un-mustardy honey mustard vinaigrette.

For the main course, you have a choice of cooking styles. A vegetable broth, a cholesterol-free canola oil, the new Mojo caribbean broth, or traditional French Coq au Vin. Not wanting to fry our whole meal, wanting to be more adventurous than veggie stock but worried about the potential spiciness of Mojo, we chose Coq au Vin, a savory broth that starts out looking like veggie broth but with the addition of fresh herbs, mushrooms, three spoonfuls of chopped garlic, and a sizable glass of hearty burgundy wine, it is transformed into a most delicious bath for our platter of dippables. Which is another choice we got to make, and again we stuck with the most traditional plate, which I think was called the Heritage. Sesame beef, parsleyed chicken breast, pork, center cut filet, a Rock lobster tail to share, chunks of a very large portobello mushroom, and one pretty green gorgonzola-and-spinach ravioli for each of us. Plus a trough of veggies including red potatoes, broccoli, yellow squash, and button mushrooms. All of these are brought to the table raw, and we get to cook them ourselves in the roiling boiling Coq au Vin, just the steam of which was making my mouth water. As if the flavor of everything that came out of that pot wasn't already good enough, sauces were provided for additional variety of tastes. For the veggies, a creamy parsley and chive dip, for the red meats a gorgonzola and port wine cream sauce, and for the rest of the meats as we so chose a trio of bold sauces: sweet teriyaki glaze, spicy barbecue, and mild, soothing yellow curry. I adore yellow curry in all it's I-look-like-mustard-but-taste-like-nutmeggy goodness. This phase of the meal was just plain fun, timing the different foods in the pot to achieve the desired doneness, dipping, sampling sauces, sipping drinks and giggling at each other. And it was so very flavorful!

And then it was time for dessert. Oh sweet heaven, choices again! There are about six kinds of chocolate fondue there, we went with the not too adventurous and old-fashioned fun option of the S'mores fondue. Like each of the others before it, this pot was prepared right before our eyes tableside. Molten chocolate was swirled with marshmallow cream, then set ablaze with some sort of liqueur, probably more Stoli Vanil, and while that flickered, crushed graham crackers are poured in, the tiny crumbs toasting in the little blue flames. Accompanied by a dippables tray of sliced strawberries, banana, pineapple, graham crackers, marshmallows rolled in graham cracker crumbs or chocolate cookie dust, tiny chunks of brownie, poundcake, and finally a slice of cheesecake to share topped with a marachino cherry, this dessert was truly sinful and we enjoyed every bite of it.

The whole night was the perfect mixture of fun, romance, fine dining, responsible consumption of actual grown-up drinks, and just good quality time together. Unforgettable. Definitely want it to be repeatable. Bon appetit!