Except for that famous 88-year-old that reviewed Olive Garden, chances are you don’t discuss about your experience at a nation-wide chain restaurant. I mean, that’s the point of these establishment. We know what we are getting before stepping into the establishment. The same uniform, greeting lines, decor, menu, and the food even taste like the one you ordered 2 years ago on the other side of the country. It is funny how similar the end product of “capitalism” and “communism” are. Jokes aside, you don’t need to be reminded on what you will be receiving at the local Taco Bell or Cheesecake Factory. But, here I’m, talking about the Melting Pot, a pretty famous chain found in cities across the U.S. In my defense, I have never been here, and neither did most of my friends. Moreover, this was our mock Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner.
The short story goes like this – we were planning to have hot pot, a traditional meal, on the eve of Chinese New Year. It turned out that there was only one hot pot restaurant in town, and they decided to close early for Chinese New Year celebrations (and you were thinking that all Asians work hard, racist.) As a result, I suggested the Melting pot as it reminded me of hot pot and DP raved about his visit there since the day I met him. By the way, hot pot is a meal where you share a boiling pot of soup base that sits in middle of the table. Everybody throw some meat and vegetables in it and scoop it out when they are cooked. Even though fondue is a Swiss/Italian/French dish, it is hard to argue to difference between them. There weren’t many other viable options, so everybody solemnly agreed, except for me and the now cheerful and excited DP.
The Melting Pot located in Wilmington, DE, is in a rather fancy location. I mean, it is situated in a replica Independence Hall with its own set Liberty bell sitting just outside of the main entrance. We were seated promptly because we made reservations and the place was rather empty (It was on a Tuesday night). On our huge table, there were two communal pots (also known as caquelon) sitting on top of sleek looking induction stoves. Being our first time there, we were very confuse with the menu after we were told that we were getting the 4-course meal, which included cheese fondue for the appetizer, a salad, savory fondue for the main course and finish off with chocolate fondue for dessert. It turned out that there are different options for each category but the price tag only depends on the entree you ordered. That mystified me as to why they bother to inform you how much each fondue cost since they are not reflected on the check. I assumed there aren’t many choices here at Melting Pot, but only half the menu consists of standard items. The others are store/locale specialty, catered to the taste buds in the region, and this I found pretty interesting. We settled on the Cheddar and Classic Alpine cheese fondues, Mojo and Coq Au Vin cooking styles (savory fondue) and Yin & Yang and Flaming Turtle chocolate fondues.* By accident, I saw the 4-course flight (3oz each)** at a reasonable price and got the pairing – I didn’t know it was wine rather than beer, but I was okay with that.
Our server brought out the ingredients and prepared the fondue in front of us. The pots were hot by then. Two of us had to control the temperature because we were sitting directly in front of the knob. I was glad that the ingredients were fresh and not premade elsewhere. By the time she brought out my first white wine and dipping ingredients such as bread, various vegetables and fruits for our first course, the cheese were melted and ready to be soaked in. Of the two, I preferred the one without wine reduction. I’m also not a fan of cheese-dipped-raw vegetables but that’s a personal opinion because there were none left at the end of the onslaught. You just can’t go wrong with cheese fondue and everybody seemed to enjoy the first course. If I have to complain, it will be that the portion was too small. Sure, they might not want to top up the cheese because that’s a big expense, but we weren’t given the option to add more bread. The two pots, still filled with cheese, were removed once we were done with our dipping ingredients. It was sad to see those cheese were wasted.
The next dish was the salad. I got the Caesar salad, which is as authentic and good as any Caesar salad found in other chain restaurants. I received my second glass of white wine, and everybody was staring at me in envy and asking how I could afford that. This reminded me of the last season of How I Met Your Mother, (SPOILER-ISH) where Lily tipped Linus, the bartender, to make sure she always was with a glass of alcohol. I’m very glad of the pairing even with wines of this quality. They are nothing to rave about and probably cost $10 at the local liquor shop down the street.
As we were munching on our salads, another server, this time a very tall male, brought out scorching hot pots of clear soup base screwed shut with metal lids. I guess nobody wants to get a second degree burn tonight. We quickly finished our salad and stared at the pots as the soup slowly boiled away. It took a good 10 minutes before our server was back with our entree and my third glass of wine, a red this time. My entree consists of Memphis-Style BBQ Pork Medallion, Sirloin beef and teriyaki-marinated sirloin. I was kind of disappointed by the size and how much more some other entrees came with, but did not really care because we were famished by then and the soup smelled great.
Everybody was given two color coded skewers to dip into the pots, and I separated them for the two different pots. We were told to leave beef in the soup for at least 1.5minutes and everything else for 2 minutes, but that was not a good rule of thumb because the meat were not cooked even after couple of minutes. To be safe, I left them in for about 5 minutes each. The meat were fantastic, both juicy, succulent and tender, but I wondered if marinating sauce and the different soup based mattered at all. They all tasted the same to me, except one soup tasted spicier than the other due to the black pepper. We were also given some more vegetables, this time with potatoes and mushroom, and we left them in the soup for quite some time. I dug them out after I finished my entree and they tasted exactly like boiled vegetables in chicken stock. If they had provided me with a bowl, I would had drank the base. The soup smelled so darn delicious! We were also provided with different kinds of sauces but I didn’t try any of them. The meat and vegetables were good on their own and I don’t see the need to overpower them with extra flavors. We definitely had a lot of fun cooking our meat and chatting away – it felt sort like a hot pot dinner. The melting pot prides themselves being a romantic place – just not today, my friend. I felt bad for the couple sitting besides us. It seemed like they were on a belated Valentine’s date.
It took us some time before we completed with our entree even though the portions were small. They probably considered the portion size with the amount of time needed to cook the meat. Our server cleared the entire table and gave us fresh utensils for our final course we have been waiting for all night, the dessert. Both pots of chocolate were brought to the table and placed onto the stoves, but one stood out, the Yin & Yang. The chocolate was arranged like the Taijitu symbol, and that’s probably the closest resemblance to lunar New Year we were going to get tonight. Our dessert plates consist of fresh fruits, marshmallows, rice crispy and sponge cakes. They were all great except the sponge cakes tend to fall apart as I dipped them into the chocolate fondue. Not cool at all.
Overall, it was a really fun and awesome meal. We were hoping to get more food, especially at the price we were paying for, but the pacing was great and we were rather full by the end. All the courses were delicious and service was pretty good. I found out that we were having such a great time that we spent almost 3 hours eating one single meal without realizing how fast the night past. I like the concept of people taking the time to enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company during the long dinner, and maybe that’s why it is a great idea for a romantic date. And isn’t that the point of a reunion dinner – to spend time with your close relatives and friends before the New Year arrives. We might not have the most authentic reunion dinner, but we did fulfill what we were looking for. You wouldn’t be disappointed if you are here for the ambience and vibe or to enjoy a conversation with someone. Just don’t expect the medium rare 16oz Wagyu Ribeye.
Address: 1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington DE 19803
Visited: February 19, 2015 at 7pm for dinner.
Cheddar – Aged, medium-sharp cheddar and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, lager beer, garlic and seasonings. 7.95 per person
Classic Alpine – Aged Gruyère, Raclette and fontina cheeses blended with white wine and fresh garlic and finished with a dash of nutmeg. 8.50 per person
Mojo – Caribbean-seasoned bouillon with a distinctive fresh-garlic ¬avor and a citrus ¬air. 3.95 per pot
Coq Au Vin – Burgundy wine infused with fresh herbs, spices and mushrooms. 4.95 per pot
Flaming Turtle – We consider it fondue candy. It’s an irresistible combination of milk chocolate, caramel and candied pecans flambéed tableside.
Yin & Yang – This fondue satisfies dark and white chocolate cravings in an artfully balanced fondue dessert.
**4-course flight – SeaGlass Pinot Gris (Cheese Fondue), New Age White Blend (Salad), Dreaming Tree Red Blend (Entree), Greystone Merlot (Chocolate Fondue)