125 W. Station Square Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
The Melting Pot has been open in Station Square for years now, but the wife and I just found our way there for the first time last night. It is a fondue restaurant, so whenever anyone mentions it, I find myself making ’70s jokes. (“Did you guys check out the new 8-track tape collection at NRM after dinner?”) In fairness however, it is thoroughly modern inside, with beautiful granite tables with elegantly incorporated cooking elements for the fondue pots.
There are four courses at The Melting Pot: cheese, salad, main entrée, and then dessert. The menu has recommended dining paths with pricing plans for singles and for couples. Some variation is available. For example, If you want the cheese course from one path and then dessert from another, you’re able to do that. If you each want a different type of salad, you can do that too. Couples must select the same cheese course, entrée (and associated cooking method), and dessert however, as all of these use the fondue pot.
Dining at The Melting Pot takes time. it’s not a pop-in sort of place. While we never waited long for anything, the complex nature of the meal means the pace is slow and relaxed. Our dinner took about two hours and fifteen minutes. Be advised that you’re not going to be able to show up at 7:00 and make a movie by 8:00.
We had a 6:00pm reservation and were promptly seated when we arrived about five minutes early. Our server Sara was courteous and articulate and talked me into an Old Black Bear Cave City Lager. She also recommended some sort of vodka-berry situation to the wife which she thoroughly enjoyed. We ordered the Big Night Out America menu, with a slight modification here and there.
Our cheese fondue was a delicious melange of cheddar, Sam Adams, Dijon mustard, Tabasco, and a bit of onion. The dippers for it include the much anticipated bread cubes, as well as a variety of raw vegetables and hearty chunks of Granny Smith apple. We had a great time with it, and we both enjoyed the apples a lot more than we expected to.
Finding the Old Black Bear a tad malty for my taste, I switched to Sweetwater 420 just ahead of the salad course. The wife and I diverged here. She went with the Caesar salad and I enjoyed the Wisconsin Wedge Salad that was the default choice in the Big Night Out America menu. It was pretty good—Gorgonzola, bacon, tomatoes—but Outback does this salad better.
There are three entrée tiers at Melting Pot, each priced by the amount of lobster in them. We went with the middle tier, called Fondue Fusion. It contained one lobster tail, four chunks of peppered Angus sirloin, four Old Bay-seasoned shrimp, four chunks of buffalo chicken, four chunks of barbecue pork, and four wild mushroom sacchetti (sort of a wonton-style dumpling), all artfully arranged. Sara also brought six sauces, including a strong cocktail sauce, a ginger plum sauce, and a mild curry, as well as some dinner-sized vegetable chunks.
We went with the Coq au Vin cooking style, which is essentially the pot filled with burgundy wine, herbs, and mushrooms. You can also choose vegetable broth, canola oil, or a Caribbean infusion. After receiving our cooking times from Sara—customer’s discretion on the veggies, minute and a half for the seafood, two minutes for the steak and wontons, and two and a half minutes for the chicken and pork—we began.
(Incidentally, as many watches as I own, and as clear as the need for a good timer should have been, the Seiko Arctura chronograph I chose for the evening wasn’t a particularly usable choice for this purpose. You need a good timer. Plan for that.)
It’s fun. We had three fondue forks apiece, and we got practiced at timing it so that we had something cooking and something to eat most of the time. I think our pot of gently boiling wine served the steak and chicken well, but the seafood and pork maybe a little less so. I suspect the only truly goes-with-anything cooking method would be the canola.
We stepped off the prescribed path again for dessert. (By the way, don’t worry about licking your fondue forks to clean them for dessert. They bring you new ones. Heh.) We selected the Flaming Turtle. That’s chocolate, caramel, and candied pecans, with a little flambé. Dippers were banana slices, strawberries, marshmallows, bits of pound cake, and cheesecake. My black coffee was of perfect intensity, and had an appealing crema.
The dessert represented a return to strength for the concept. Cheese and chocolate bookend the meal, and is there really any such thing as fondue without them?
Clearly, there is much to like about The Melting Pot, and indeed, my wife and I enjoyed our experience there. It actively positions itself as a “date night” destination, and mission accomplished.
Yet we agree that we are unlikely to have a full dinner there again. Why is that? Simply put, we experienced no knockout taste at The Melting Pot. While everything we were served was attractively presented and tasted good, we ate nothing that made us say “we have to come back and have that again.” An entrée course containing six different house sauces and five different meats should make itself gustatorily memorable at some point. Instead, the novelty of fondue is essentially left to support the entire experience. That’s one trick, and it’s a good trick—but it’s not quite enough scaffolding for what it costs.
If you hear a widespread knock against The Melting Pot, it’s that it’s expensive. The four-course dinner for the two of us, four alcoholic beverages, a cup of coffee with dessert, and 20.7% for Sara came to $164. Now as I’ve said in other reviews, meals out are a luxury to start with, and must be evaluated on their own value scale. Even considering, that’s high for the experience we had.
Now that is not to say we won’t be back at all. It’s a pleasant place to be, and our service was quite good. We both said it’d be a fun place to go for dessert and coffee after a movie, for example. Having just the cheese course would be an eminently defensible light dinner. So, while it’s doubtful The Melting Pot will make our date night rotation, I won’t say we’ll never enter the place again.
If the idea of The Melting Pot intrigues you, then please don’t think I’m trying to dissuade you. We had an experience of consistent quality. We just didn’t come out with any particular desire to repeat the full four-course dinner, and for us, the one-two of that lack of desire and the pricing banishes it from future date night consideration.