FonDONE Take 2!

13 04 2015

At the end of March, I was lucky enough to get an invitation back to The Melting Pot for another round of FonDONE! The kind folks at Front Burner Brands saw my first post about FonDONE and reached out to see if I could come back for a media event they were having. More cheese and chocolate? Yes, Please!

Bill and I headed over to St. Pete to the only Melting Pot that is serving FonDONE right now. I had no idea that this particular restaurant was so special- they often will pilot new concepts here and oh, and it’s also supposedly haunted:-) We didn’t see any ghosts while we were there, but we did get to meet up with some other bloggers/media who I had only ever interacted with via social media. I shared a table with Carlos Eats, his friend from the USF Foodies club, and Crystal from Thrifty and Frugal Living. There were two other tables of bloggers/writers, but unfortunately I was too busy eating to really get to talk to anyone else. We had one more special guest at our table: Mike Lester, THE president of the Melting Pot. NBD.IMG_8803

(not the most flattering picture, I apologize)

He was really cool; very passionate about what they’re doing at the Melting Pot, and clearly a leader who is respected by his staff. It was easy to see that the Melting Pot really fosters a sense of inclusion and “we’re family” among the staff, and he’s a key player in bringing those values to life.

We also got to meet the head chef, who has a very impressive resume, but of course the one thing he always gets asked about is that time he was the personal chef for Ludacris!

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I hadn’t really thought of it before, but Melting Pot restaurants who wish to bring FonDONE to their restaurant need to undergo a kitchen makeover. There’s no need for a cook top or oven right now (since you do it at your table)- but with FonDONE you need a chef and a kitchen in which he can work! That’s quite the investment, but I’m pretty sure it will pay off for sites that choose to add it to the menu!

For our event, they were highlighting a few speciality cocktails, so of course I had to try one (or two). I started with the Love Martini: malibu, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and fresh strawberries. It was a little sweet, but if you like Malibu, you’ll LOVE this martini. IMG_8788

I sipped my martini while we got started on our appetizers. We began with the Wisconsin Trio and the Classic Alpine. I had never actually had the Classic Alpine before, which is a Gruyere, Raclette, and Fontina blend with some wine wine, garlic and nutmeg, but I definitely found my new favorite! The nutmeg just brings it all together (who knew? I guess the Swiss!) and it is dynamite on apples, carrots, bread, or some of their premium rosemary fries (new!!). Oh- and did you know that they have a charcuterie plate with accoutrements? Put together a dipper with salami, cornichon, sweet pepper, and bread- you won’t regret it!

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After we got our fill of cheese, it was FonDONE time! The FonDONE menu offers small plates from a variety of categories: Beef & Pork, Poultry, Seafood, Pasta, and Vegetarian. We were offered 5 of the different dishes- and man, were we spoiled! We got to try:

The Filet Mignon, served on a small pile of wasabi mashed potatoes

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Lemon pepper chicken (served with a side of tri-color quinoa salad),

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Jumbo grilled shrimp (on a corn salad),

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Lobster tail (YES!!)

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and (my favorite) the Wild Mushroom Sacchetti in a marsala sauce.

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Now THAT’s a MEAL!

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As if that wasn’t enough, we obviously needed to have some side dishes: quattro macaroni and cheese (how can you go wrong with mac n cheese??) and the fresh asparagus risotto.

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Of course, the FonDONE is served with the trio of dipping sauces: Goat Cheese fondue, Marsala, and savory Cabernet. Yup, the Goat cheese was still my favorite!

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As I was filling myself to the gills with delicious food, it was time for another beverage. I had planned to wait until dessert to get my drink, but I just couldn’t wait. Enter: the Yin & Yang Martini:

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Godiva white chocolate Liquer and Stoli vanilla vodka blended with ice cream then topped with chocolate shavings. Oh, and served in a beautiful yin yang shape! This is probably the prettiest drink I’ve ever been served, and though I didn’t want to destroy the beautiful artwork, I just couldn’t wait to dive in.

O.M.G. Absolutely delicious. Dessert in a martini glass. It reminded me of the black and white milkshakes my mom used to make when I was younger (no, hers were not spiked). I would absolutely come back for that drink again. And again. And again.

When I didn’t think I could eat (or drink) anymore, I had to find a little more room for dessert! It was chocolate fondue time! We got two of the Melting Pot’s most popular chocolates: the Flaming Turtle (chocolate, caramel, and candied pecans, a la flambe, obviously!) and the Creme Brûlée (white chocolate and caramelized sugar).

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If you know me, I’m a dark chocolate fan. The darker, the better. I’m honestly not really a white chocolate person, and would probably never have ordered the Creme Brûlée fondue, but man, was it amazing! It definitely won a place in my heart (not overtaking dark chocolate, but a close second). I kept coming back to it, dipping all of the different dessert dippers (including one of the premium dippers: the raspberry cheesecake).

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Yes, please!

And if the evening wasn’t special enough already, the servers brought out plates that had been decorated with our blog names!
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How awesome is that??

I was absolutely overwhelmed by the hospitality and kindness of the folks at the Melting Pot. They’re really excited about this concept- and it shows. They’re also SUPER open to feedback- they just want customers to have the BEST dining experience possible. I definitely think they’re doing something right, and I really hope that FonDONE takes off. It’s a great idea, and I can’t wait to go back for more! Thank you Front Burner Brands for the invite!


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(FULL DISCLOSURE: My meal was comped, but all opinions are my own!)





I Went to The Melting Pot and I Didn’t Have to Cook My Meal!

17 03 2015

A few weeks ago, Bill and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Melting Pot with some of his friends. I haven’t been to the Melting Pot since I lived in DC, so I was really excited to visit their St. Pete location. If you’ve never been to a Melting Pot, it’s such a fun dining experience. If you choose the typical 4-course menu, you’ll be treated to a salad, a cheese fondue appetizer, your entree, which you cook in a delicious broth at your table, and then the pièce de résistance: the chocolate fondue for dessert. All the food is delicious, and if you’re in the mood for a romantic, casually-paced meal (and if you’re super hungry!) you definitely need to check it out.

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Our dining experience was going to be a little non-traditional. We were lucky enough to get a sneak-peak of The Melting Pot’s newest menu: FonDONE. The FonDONE still provides you with your salad, cheese fondue and chocolate fondue, but the one difference is that you order an entree (or several, as they are more like small plates) and sides that will be prepared in the kitchen and delivered to the table, done! No need to wait for the bowl of cooking sauce to boil or for your meat/vegetable to come to the proper internal temperature. The cooking is done for you, and you just need to eat!

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For our party of 6, we started our meal with two different cheeses: the spinach artichoke and the tomato basil cheddar. Served with apples, veggies, and some crusty bread, both of these warm, gooey cheese were winners, though I think I preferred the spinach artichoke a tiny bit more. We also ordered one of the new sides (typically served as a pair to an entree) to dip: rosemary fries. YUM! Crispy with just the right touch of rosemary and salt, these were great by themselves or dipped in cheese!

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We moved on to the salad course, where I enjoyed the pear and gorgonzola salad. Sorry, I didn’t grab a photo!

Finally, it was FonDONE time! Since we were there as guests to try the new menu, we didn’t have a full selection of the FonDONE menu, but it didn’t matter- the options we had all sounded so delicious! I went with the filet mignon and wild mushroom sachetti.

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All the entrees are served with 3 warm dipping sauces: Goat cheese fondue, marsala (a sweet marsala wine sauce topped with Gorgonzola crumbles), and savory cabernet (a red wine demi glace reduction).

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We also ordered the remainder of the shareable sides to try out: quattro macaroni and cheese, seasonal roasted vegetables, and the fresh asparagus risotto.

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Wow. Everything was SO DELICIOUS. My filet was cooked perfectly and laid atop a pile of mashed potatoes. And the sachetti, which was a little purse (sachet) filled with a mushroom blend- so savory, so good! The sauce- I’m not entirely sure what it was- but it was out of this world! I really enjoyed the three additional dipping sauces too- of course the goat cheese was my favorite! My only challenge was that the sauces were shared and I didn’t want to double dip- so I had to cut, and then switch to my fondue stick, dip, and then put back on my plate to eat with my fork. It was a little bit of a process, and I think I’d prefer to actually have my own cup of sauce so I could just dip with my fork. I’m also not sure I really needed the sauces- the entrees were wonderful by themselves! Other than that, I was super happy with my two entrees. It was definitely enough food too, especially with all of the other courses we had!

The sides were great as well- I think my favorite was probably the macaroni and cheese, but the risotto was a close second. I like that I got to try a little of each side, rather than just have the one I ordered.

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For dessert, we ordered a dark chocolate with Grand Marnier, and the turtle (chocolate with caramel and pecans). I barely had room for any more food, but who can pass up chocolate, especially warm, dark chocolate?? This is always my favorite course at the Melting Pot, and our choices did not disappoint. I really liked the turtle fondue, since we requested dark instead of milk chocolate. Mmmmm. SO good!

I left the restaurant with a full belly and a smile on my face. What a great dinner!

I really enjoyed the FonDONE concept. Sure, I like the experience that is cooking your own food, but when I go out to eat, it’s usually because I don’t want to cook! So, it was great to have a high-quality, kitchen-prepared meal delivered to the table. I really like the “small plates” idea, since I love to explore and try different things. I could see myself coming to the Melting Pot for just a few of the small plates alone. Of course, I’d also return for the full four-course option, but I think next time, I’d only get one entree because of all the other food. I’d highly recommend checking out the FonDONE option if your Melting Pot is offering it!

Full disclosure: My meal was comped (Thank you Dan and Jewell!) but all opinions are my own! 





Range by Bryan Voltaggio

29 01 2014

I recently had a dining experience that definitely falls in my top ten of all time. Range by Bryan Voltaggio knocked my socks off when I was in DC last week.

When I lived in DC, I had always heard of Voltaggio’s restaurant Volt, but never got a chance to trek up to Frederick, MD to check it out. You have to make reservations a year in advance-it’s that popular (and I’m assuming THAT good, based on the loads of rave reviews).

However, Voltaggio recently opened a second restaurant, Range, in DC proper (just barely, if you walk across the street, you’re in Maryland) and I was able to check it out.

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The restaurant is located inside the Chevy Chase Pavilion- essentially an enormous building that has office space, shops, a hotel, and restaurants- and I’m pretty sure that the restaurant doesn’t have any walls that are actually on the outside of the building. I really mean inside. However, the walls that set the boundaries of the restaurant are floor to ceiling glass. So, as you approach, you can see inside the entire restaurant, which is quite large.

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(image from The President Wears Prada)

As I approached the front door, I was greeted by a host and hostess. I was dining solo, so I asked if I could just grab a seat at the bar. The host told me “Absolutely”, as he started to walk me in, “but if there isn’t any space there, I can seat you at the chef’s table.”

The chef’s table?

My ears perked up and my inner foodie started to jump up and down. I sheepishly asked, “Can I sit at the chef’s table, even if there is space at the bar?”

He cheerfully responded, “Of course” and proceeded to walk me straight up to the place where all the action was happening- a seat less than five feet from where chef John Miele was putting the finishing touches on every. single. plate.

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Range has an open kitchen, which wraps around the inside of the restaurant like an L. There’s seating all along the edge, almost like a diner, but fancier. 😉 I was literally right next to the station where the wait staff picked up their plates from the chef to take to their tables. It was a bit busy at first, and several of the wait staff kindly asked if the seat was okay, and if I’d prefer to be down a few seats where it was quieter. I declined- it was so fun be (literally) in the middle of all the action.

The menu offered a ton of delicious sounding options. I kept watching the plates come out, sometimes asking what each dish was (yes, I was close enough that I could talk to the chef if he wasn’t too busy), and trying to narrow down my choices.

I knew I wanted the fried brussels sprouts, but I was so torn about my main dish. At the recommendation of my waiter, I went with the Carbonara special.

As I waited for my dinner, I had a goofy grin on my face as I watched plate after plate of delicious food go out to the hungry customers. Man, would I love to try it all! I snapped a few photos like a tourist, but the chef didn’t seem to mind- he was probably used to it.

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I wish I wasn’t so shy/nervous, because I only exchanged a few words with the chef and his staff. Whenever I did, I got a detailed response, and if my questions bothered them, they never let on.

Soon, my food was up!

The brussels:

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These were AH-MAZ-ING!

Chef putting the finishing touches on MY carbonara:

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(Side note: So the dish is mostly prepared by one of the other cooks right behind him. When my pasta first was being plated, the chef turned around and watched. I’m not sure what happened, but the next thing I saw was the food being taken away, seemingly not up to standard. A few minutes later, I watched the cook replate a new serving of pasta which did pass muster.)

The final product:

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A perfectly poached egg atop homemade pasta in a buttery sauce with sausage. Finished with some sliced pecorino and greens for garnish.  (Sorry my description is not as appealing as the one that was in the menu. I wish I had captured it!)

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YUM!

And of course I couldn’t say no to dessert! I asked my waiter for his recommendations and he was partial to the meyer lemon dessert (unfortunately, I can’t find the dessert menu, so I can’t be more specific!) I wasn’t totally on board with that, so I mulled over the menu for a good bit longer. Another waiter, as he was waiting for his plates to come up, asked me which dessert I was thinking about getting. I confessed I wasn’t sure, and he recommended the caramel pot de creme. He completely sold me on it. The homemade almond cake, the roasted pear, the creamy caramel mousse, and the chocolate stout ice cream sounded outstanding, so I ordered it.
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OMG. This was soooo incredible. And it looks like artwork, doesn’t it? The caramel creme was outstanding, and the almond cake was just moist enough. The ice cream definitely tasted like a stout, and was the perfect compliment!

And of course I couldn’t go home without getting some of their confections and chocolate to go, so after again grilling my waiter on his favorites, I ordered a few pieces of chocolate (mexican hot chocolate anyone?) and a few too many cookies/biscotti/krispy treats. #worthit

I had an absolutely wonderful experience at Range, and I would go back in a heartbeat. The staff was pleasant, attentive (but not overly attentive, which can get annoying), knowledgable, and very helpful. I loved the vibe and the open kitchen. Sitting right next to the chef was awesome, and it was totally a perfect spot for someone dining solo to sit, not to mention someone who loves food as much as I do! And it goes without saying that the food was dynamite. If you’re ever in the area, go check it out!