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Melt Down

Ten minutes later the bouillon still wasn't boiling--but we were, and the waitress was nowhere in sight. So we took matters into our own hands, adjusting the heat until the brew finally did boil, and then threw everything on the platter into the pot. That's when our waitress decided to return. "Oh, no," she said, looking at us as if we'd ruined everything. "You're supposed to do it one piece at a time." Well, by my calculations (and using her two-minute cooking-time estimate), those twenty pieces of meat would have taken at least forty minutes to cook, and you had to throw in some time for chewing. Fast fondue, indeed. I told the waitress to pack up our dessert fondue and get the check, now.

Twenty minutes later she was still coming up with a way to package dessert while we futzed around with mistakes on our tab. The Melting Pot menu advises you to say "Fondue me" to your server when you want a cheese fondue or some such nonsense. At this point, I found the phrase very useful to express other feelings.

We left the Melting Pot still hungry for great fondue--fast or otherwise. And we found it close by, at Chez Walter. This smallish cafe is squeezed into a Littleton shopping plaza much the way Switzerland is squeezed onto a map of Europe. But the travel posters that line the walls reflect the pride Walter and Jacqueline Schmuki feel for Walter's former homeland, a regard that's as authentic as the excellent fondue that's been coming out of Chez Walter's kitchen since 1982. The fondue deal, which runs $14.50 per person, is only on the menu at dinner, but you can call ahead to request it for lunch, which is what we did. When I asked Jacqueline if Chez Walter served "real fondue," she gasped. "But, of course," she replied. "I'm warning you, though, that it's going to be strong and maybe not what you're used to."

Also strong was Walter's thick, pungent mushroom soup, which came with the fondue, along with a typical French salad of mixed greens with a few simple garnishes. The order also included a plate of rssti, the Swiss potato dish that Walter makes by grating raw spuds and frying them with onions in canola oil until the center of the rssti is soft and the exterior crisp and chewy. Then came the main event: an enamel pot filled with cheese, already cooked down into a bubbling mass. The fondue's flavor was deep and complex, with no one element standing out--not even the alcohol, which had been expertly blended into the mix. We used our entire supply of French bread cubes and apple wedges to soak up this goodness, and we were about to resort to fingers when the last course arrived.

Dessert, too, was included in the fondue deal, and it was the least impressive part of the meal. The chocolate mousse was a dreary take on that old standby, and the chocolate cream pie tasted as if it had been made with chocolate pudding. But the fondue alone was enough to make us hunger for a return trip to Chez Walter, when we could try out more of the kitchen's European-style dishes.

The Melting Pot is a real Swiss miss. But Chez Walter lives up to its promise.

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