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Full of Holes

A meal at La Fondue may leave you feeling forked.

The powerful bourguignonne lent a little muscle and spice to the mignonettes of center-cut filet that, like all filet cuts, had sacrificed flavor for delicacy. It did right by the sirloin, too: bite-sized chunks, tender as anything, that arrived raw, gleaming with oil and sprinkled with crushed (and sometimes not crushed) garlic cloves. We also tried the chicken, but no matter what you do to it fondue-wise, when it's done, it's still going to be boiled chicken. Not La Fondue's fault -- pure kitchen physics. An order of lobster brought two meaty tails, very fresh, with the flesh already cut from the carapace, sectioned into stabbable portions, then returned to the shell for presentation. While the delicate meat turned brown and murky and muddled in the bourguignonne, it worked well with the clarified vegetable broth of the bouillon. So did a dozen shelled shrimp, nicely chilled and very fresh, which emerged from their dip in the bouillon relatively unadulterated.

Each of the dinner entrees includes a pair of house-determined dipping sauces, just in case all the stabbing, boiling and fishing around in the pot doesn't satisfy your need to fuss. The marinated sirloin comes with teriyaki and barbecue; the shrimp with red-pepper aioli and cocktail sauce. During my couple of visits to La Fondue, I've sampled every sauce the restaurant offers -- and every single one of them (with the obvious exception of drawn butter for the lobster) was awful. Some of them were simply nasty, others criminally indecent. The red-pepper aioli was bitter -- not hot, not spicy, but bitter and burnt-tasting. The dill sauce was like swallowing a bottle of the dried herb, then chasing it with a shot of warm buttermilk. And the horseradish cream sauce was the kind of thing that could get you killed back East, where people take their beef-and-horseradish sandwiches very seriously.

Dessert at a fondue place is pretty idiot-proof -- we're talking melted chocolate and melted caramel, with things to dip into them -- but here La Fondue returned to the merely mediocre. The chocolates -- white, dark and milk, or any combination of them -- are Swiss and of good quality, so they melted smoothly over a double boiler. And while the dippable offerings were dull, it's tough to disappoint a guy with a sweet tooth like mine when you put a vat of molten chocolate in front of him. Hell, they could've brought out a plate of Styrofoam packing peanuts and gravel and I would have been happy. Instead, minimal-effort offerings -- including a piece of banana cheesecake, some sliced bananas, whole campfire-sized marshmallows (but no graham crackers), chopped-up bits of a Snickers bar, cubes of pound cake and strawberries -- had been arranged on a greasy doily on a black plate, dusted heavily with confectioners' sugar (which is a great trick for hiding scratches on the servingware and fingerprints on the food, but always, always looks cheap), then brought to the table along with the chocolate. There were a dozen ways dessert could have been done better, but La Fondue again chose to stop short of excellent and be content with good enough.

Fondon't: La Fondue takes the easy way out.
Sean O'Keefe
Fondon't: La Fondue takes the easy way out.

Location Info

Map

La Fondue

1040 15th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Fondue

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

1040 15th Street
303-534-0404
Hour s: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
5-11 p.m. Friday
4:30-11 p.m. Saturday
4:30-10 p.m. Sunday

Cheese fondue: $9
Sirloin fondue: $16
Seafood fondue: $17
Filet mignon fondue: $18/$22
Surf and turf fondue: $17
Entrees for two (includes cheese course, salad course, vegetables and dessert): $40-$68

If you like playing with your food or just have a hankering for gobs and gobs of melted cheese, La Fondue is worth a visit. The service is personable, the staff well-educated and adept at the somewhat esoteric art of tableside fondue preparation; the portions are generous; the prices are reasonable; the wine list is comprehensive and slanted toward drunken romance. But La Fondue could be so much more -- and until it recognizes those missed opportunities and wasted potential, I won't be back.

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