The first impression from our visit to the Melting Pot was wending our way through the maze of the mall's parking lot. It turned out to be an appropriate introduction, for the restaurant itself is maze-like, with booths set along one side of a long dark tunnel that branches slightly to the right about four times before ending at the restrooms.
THE MELTING POT | 199 Providence Place, Providence | Mon-Thurs, 5-10 pm; Fri, 5-11 pm; Sat, 12-11 pm; Sun, 12-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
In those branches are four more "lanes," including one with smaller, three-sided booths, termed "lover's lane." I'd argue that the height of the booths and the dimness of the light make any of the seating arrangements just right for a romantic assignation or a top-secret business deal.
Set into the top of each table is a hot plate (or two) on which sits a large fondue pot. Remember fondue? A resurgence of interest has sent folks scrambling for those long-forgotten fondue forks, though the pots (and their sterno holders) are less likely to have survived kitchen purges.
The Melting Pot began in Florida in the late '70s, and now has close to 150 franchises. The Providence incarnation opened last year and offers several cheese fondues, as well as entrée options (meat or seafood cooked in broth) and dessert variations. Many couples opt for a four-course meal for $82-$92, in which both diners get the cheese fondue as appetizer, a palate-cleansing salad, followed by the entrée and dessert fondues. An award-winning wine list draws primarily on California vineyards, though a few European and Down Under wines round out the selections, with many by the glass ($6-$13).
The cheese fondue choices ($15 to share, $8 per additional person) are: spinach, artichoke hearts, fontina and butterkäse; cheddar with Mexican herbs; cheddar with beer; Wisconsin trio, with fontina, butterkäse, and buttermilk bleu; and the traditional Swiss, with Gruyere, Emmenthaler, and a splash of kirschwasser. We opted for the latter, and our Queens-accented waiter Andy prepared it in front of us.
He poured in the wine, stirred in some minced garlic, a dash of nutmeg, a squirt of lemon, then the grated cheeses, and then the kirsch. It was served with bread cubes, whole mushrooms caps, celery sticks, cauliflower flowerets, and apple chunks. It tasted just right, a flood of '70s memories in each bite. My only disappointment was the temperature — I wanted it hotter.
Since we were both ordering entrees, we had a choice of salads. Bill went for the Caesar, and I for the house, with a "sweet and tangy" house dressing. Other salads were spinach and mushroom or California, with walnuts and Gorgonzola. The greens with friends really hit the spot after the cheesy fondue.
From a dozen entrees — meat or seafood or combinations thereof — Bill picked the Pacific rim ($24) and I the vegetarian ($18). Next you select a broth in which to cook your items: court bouillon, a seasoned vegetable broth; bourguignon, canola oil; coq au vin ($6 per pot), with herbs and burgundy; or mojo style (also an extra $6), a Caribbean-seasoned bouillon. Bill got the latter and I the vegetable broth. If a vegetarian chooses not to eat meat, then he or she most likely doesn't want to cook items in the same pot with meat, but we had to ask to be moved to a table with two hotplates and two pots to accomplish that.