The Melting Pot (La Jolla)
Cheese fondue? Chocolate fondue? Sounds interesting but it's never struck me as something I 'must do'... Cue the entrance of The Melting Pot gift certificate. It was finally time to see what the fuss was about.
The Melting Pot is a national chain with a location in the UTC area, sharing a hotel plaza with a few other fine-dining establishments (Flemings, Trulucks, Cafe Japengo). You can valet directly in front of the restaurant or self park in the hotel parking lot down the hill. The restaurant will validate your parking stub for 3-hours. Self parking is somewhat of a mini-journey though, at least for your first time. Your choices are 1) finding your way to the parking entrance, then traversing the steep hill, or 2) take elevator to ground level, walk past a pool, into the hotel, up the grand staircase and out the hotel entrance to cross the plaza. I've done both. Do whichever you fancy!
The restaurant is always packed so there's usually a wait if you don't have a reservation. Outdoor seating seemed to be quicker for this visit, but it still took 30+ minutes.
Each table has one stovetop, or two for the larger tables, so generally the group must select the same cheese, broth, and chocolate bases. You can increment the serving size (set cost per serving) but it's not required. We decided to go for the 4-course meal to get the whole experience. You get to select each course as well as the cooking style from the menu.
The first course of cheese is made tableside. I really enjoyed watching as it progressed. Waiter would state what he was doing - I'm adding in the sauce now. Add a sprinkling of cheese here. Top with some herbs and spices.
We enjoyed our choice of the Fiesta cheese mix. Fearing the burn, I only let him add one jalapeno to the pot! Lucky for me it wasn't spicy. We dipped the apples, carrots, and chips into the pan. My only complaint was the cheese wasn't hot despite being melted down.
The next course was our chosen side salad, the Strawberry Caprese, brought out a few minutes later. This beauty was enticingly plated, with large round mozza slices and beautiful thick slices of strawberry, drizzled with a sweet balsamic glaze dressing. Marvelous course on fresh greens! Loved it.
For the entrees, they removed the pot of cheese and brought out a special metal holder contraption (keeps some of the heat during transfer) and placed the pot without the double boiler insert. Our chosen cooking style was called Mojo. We sampled this broth as it was heating up... cajon spice was detected and it was mildly flavored.
The entree platters came out a few minutes later when the broth was boiling and ready. Waiter dropped in some broccoli, potato, and mushrooms into the steamy pot.
Here's the dips that came with our meal. Starting from top row left, we have the teriyaki, curry (mild yogurt based), ginger plum, and the bottom row left, the green goddess (chives, etc), gorgonzala, and a shrimp cocktail sauce. Be forewarned that there is a LOT of horseradish (or similar) in that shrimp cocktail! I made the mistake of dipping a shrimp in there and losing said shrimp a few seconds later!
Our entree was the Pacific Rim sampler, with approximately 4 meats per item except for the shrimp, which had 3. The duck cooks for approximately 2 minutes and turned out to be super soft after cooking. For the steak, 45 seconds would give you medium rare. The shrimps cook for about 1.5 minutes as do the dumplings with the yummy pork filling. These were all pretty decent but definitely a small portion!
Dennis added an additional platter, the Memphis-Style BBQ Pork Medallions, to beef up our meal. The waiter told us to cook each for approximately 2 minutes. All these cooking times reminded me of Gyu-Kaku guidance for grilling meats. I was afraid all that seasoning would be lost but turns out that some of it stuck on after cooking so we had lightly flavored pork, with the influence of the broth.
We were brought out a dessert menu and chose the flaming turtle chocolate fondue. To start, the waiter added some alcohol to the chocolate and lit it on fire! The flames didn't last too long but the waiter was stirring the pot while it was still burning.
We asked a waitress what all the side items were and she mentioned there were two of each except for the two marshmellows and mini dessert bites. She joked to not fight over those ones and we picked up our skewers to mock fight. A few minutes later, she came back and had brought out an extra of the 'single' dessert places, basically winking at us to 'get along'!
Out of all of these, the BLONDIE was our favorite dessert! A little bit of nut added a nice bite to this mini snack and a chocolate lining only made it better! The brownie bite was not too bad either though it's a super chocolate feast compared to the others. Dennis and I didn't really care for the two coated marshmellows (darkest item and toast-colored one above it). They seemed too sweet and we're used to ooey gooey smore-type marshmellows. Of course the pineapple and strawberries paired perfect with chocolate. The spongy yellow cake also seemed decent once dipped.
A note of caution is that the chocolate is REALLY HOT, nothing like the cheese from the first course. I began dipping, then cooling off before consuming each piece for this course!
After this experience, I can see why patrons typically sit around for two hours at a time. There's a lot of waiting time... the appearance of the waiter, figuring out the menu (at least for newbies), for each course's pot to heat up, munching at your own pace, etc. The experience itself is quite fun throughout, the way they instruct you through the process and just experiencing the fondue itself. The portions aren't that big so cost-wise, it can add up quick. Still, I think fondue is something you should try at least once in your lifetime. Take advantage of their promos, such as the upcoming $30 menu for san diego restaurant week.
The Melting Pot of San Diego (La Jolla)
8980 University Center Ln
San Diego CA 92122