If you go
* Where: The Melting Pot, 2553 Lifestyle Lane.
* Phone: 893-5237.
* Hours: 4-10:30 p.m. Sunday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 4-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
* Price range: $16 (cheese fondues); $20-$27 (entree fondues); $82-$94 (four-course Big Night Out dinners for two); $16-$32 (small- and regular-size chocolate fondues).
* Payment: Cash and major credit cards.
* Alcohol: Full bar.
Since hearing more than a year ago that it was coming to town, I've been eager for The Melting Pot to open. My sister in Nashville said it's her favorite restaurant. Ditto for one of my friends in Atlanta. And for years, we've been sandwiched in between. Now, it's our turn to savor the flavors of the finest fondue in Chattanooga, thanks to owners Thane and Michelle Rice.
Almost any kind of meat, seafood and fruit can be skewered and dunked into any of several hot mixtures -- burgundy wine infused with herbs, mushrooms and spices; homemade seasoned vegetable broth; Caribbean-seasoned bouillon; or the Bourguignonne. Half the fun is deciding what you want. We went with tradition and chose the latter -- canola oil heated to a low simmering point to cook the meats and veggies.
The Melting Pot experience begins with six choices of cheese fondue made tableside by your server. My dad chose the Swiss cheese fondue as his entree. It was a fun interlude, watching as the server masterfully mixed white wine with garlic and a little lemon juice before adding gruyere and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, a drizzle of Kirsch for good measure, then swirling in a little nutmeg.
The rest of us ordered shrimp and sirloin entrees to be cooked in oil. Each table setting comes with a set of three fondue spears, color-coded so you'll know whose is whose when they're all plunged in the oil cooking your meat and vegetables. When four people are cooking on one pot -- the second pot was devoted to the cheese fondue -- the meat takes a little longer to cook, but once done and covered with any number of different sauces brought to the table, you have a delicious entree. The sirloin was fork-tender and marinated in a little teriyaki for a wonderful taste. I particularly enjoyed it paired with the blue-cheese sauce.
Salads come with each entree. My pick is the Melting Pot House salad with Tangy House dressing. Superb.
Our stomachs were much too full to consider one of the favorite fondues in the house: the chocolate course. And it's a shame. There are 10 chocolate fondues, including one that lets you create your own "masterpiece" from dark, white or milk chocolate with a splash of Baileys, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Chambourd or Tuaca. What a finish!
Had I had the room, though, I think I'd have gone with The Original -- melted milk chocolate with a swirl of peanut butter. And for dunkers? Strawberries, bananas, Rice Krispies treats, marshmallows, brownies and cheesecake chunks.
Experienced Melting Pot diners obviously know how to do it right. While waiting on the entire party to arrive, my daughter heard the hostess taking numerous reservations for "cheese and chocolate." Translated: cheese fondue course and a chocolate fondue course. Sometimes simple is better.
Since you do the cooking, you might think the server's job wouldn't be all that tough. But constant refills of drinks, the bottomless vegetable bowl, sauce refills and other dinner duties keep each server busy. Ours did an excellent job.
Located next to hhgregg in the newly built Waterside Lifestyle Center off Shallowford Road, this new restaurant sports a large dining area with a bar, as well as a good-size outdoor space enclosed during cold weather to provide extra seating.
Booths take up most of the seating space, but they're good and roomy. Very comfortable. The cooking pots are in the center of the table within easy reach.
I like the feel of this restaurant. It's got a comfortable, sleek, sort of European feel to it.
The Melting Pot is one of those restaurants that, when dinner's over, you talk about for the rest of the evening. A fun camaraderie develops around the fondue pot, and the myriad flavors are delicious. It's a restaurant experience we've needed for years.