I've always loved Melting Pot fondue restaurants...I remember going to one almost 20 years ago. It's such a fun and unique experience...having a long, relaxing meal with friends or family while enjoying both the savory as well as sweet fondue courses: cheese fondue, main course, and the never-to-be-forgotten chocolate fondue. Unfortunately, my visits to Melting Pot were few and far between -- never often enough.
That may be changing now, as Melting Pot's new gluten-free menu makes it one more place our family can safely dine with our son who has Celiac Disease.
I had the opportunity to try out the new gluten-free menu last week during a dinner with the DC Celiacs group. Unfortunately, the 7:30 dinner was too close to my 7-year-old's bedtime, so I didn't bring him along. But I was happy to volunteer for the hardship duty of testing out the menu to make sure it was "good enough" for him to enjoy another time!
They have a gluten-free menu, but frankly, there isn't much on the "regular" menu Celiacs can't have. For the first course -- the cheese fondue -- Melting Pot substitutes cornstarch for flour and Redbridge beer for "regular" beer in their gluten-free versions. There are SIX different cheese fondues to choose from. Our table was large enough to have three "burners," so we selected three different cheese fondues to try: the spinach artichoke cheese fondue, the cheddar cheese fondue, and the traditional swiss cheese fondue. All were outstanding. The location in Washington, D.C. where we dined had gluten-free bread for us. I recognized it immediately...it was "Against the Grain" baguettes, cut up into small cubes for dipping. Not all locations have gluten-free bread, but I'd recommend calling ahead to ask -- and even finding out if you can bring your own. Otherwise, the veggies and apples are just fine for dipping into the delicious cheeses.
Next up was the salad course, and most of us selected the spinach mushroom salad, served with a warm burgundy shallot vinaigrette, which was very tasty. They also offer a house salad, caesar salad, California salad, and seasonal salad. "Gluten Free" simply means they leave the croutons off...otherwise they are all safe as prepared.
For our main course, we were served a plate of filet mignon, shrimp, and a slightly spicy seasoned chicken (gluten-free, of course!). There are four cooking styles to choose from, and we opted for the gluten-free "bourguignonne" canola oil; the Coq au Vin with herbs, spices, and burgundy wine; and the "Mojo Style" Caribbean-seasoned bouillon. I liked all but the bourguignonne oil, which didn't impart any flavor, was a bit "greasy," and could easily overcook the meats if you weren't vigilant with the timing (who wants to sit there with a stop watch, right?!). In general, they tell you the food takes about 2 minutes to cook, but we found the chicken especially needed more time. The nice thing is you can't overcook the food in the broth and bouillon. In fact, it gets more flavorful the longer it simmers. The fun part is then dipping your cooked meats in any one of a number of yummy sauces. Four out of Melting Pot's six sauces are gluten free: Green Goddess (a blend of cream cheese, sour cream, onions, chives, and parsley), Gorgonzola Port, Ginger Plum, and Curry (a mild version...my personal favorite...I liked it on everything!). The only sauces we were told weren't gluten-free are their teriyaki sauce (because of the soy sauce) and the cocktail sauce.
Although we were all sufficiently satisfied at this point, what's a trip to Melting Pot without chocolate fondue? We had a hard time deciding between their NINE different choices, but we opted for The Original (milk chocolate with a swirl of crunchy peanut butter), the Flaming Turtle, and the Yin and Yang (half dark chocolate and half white chocolate). In addition to the strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, and pineapple, our location served our group gluten-free chocolate brownies for dipping, too.
It was a terrifically enjoyable evening, and to top it off, Melting Pot donated $5 from each attendee to the Celiac Disease Program at Children's National Medical Center. If you're involved in a local Celiac support group, consider planning your own group outing to your local Melting Pot (there are locations almost all over the country). If you can arrange a similar way to make a donation to a favorite Celiac cause, it's a win-win-win!