When it comes to cooking, I have just one rule: Never fry bacon naked. Other than that, I've always done whatever works -- but I might have to rethink things since my recent dinner at the Melting Pot, a fondue (translation: self-service) joint at 2707 West Main Street in Littleton. The Swiss invented fondue as a way to get rid of their hardened, stale cheese, warming it up and serving it to drunken Americans. The fondue craze was really big when I was a kid, and now it's making a resurgence just like good music, wife-swapping and ridiculous clothing.
We ventured to the Melting Pot for the birthday party of a woman I'll call Jen because that's her name, who's the wife of the Texan Representative. Our party was seated around an enclosed table that was ill-suited to the full-contact dining required when a dozen people fight over three pots of gooey cheese. After starting off with beers and a vat of wine for Jen, we soon determined just how much trouble we were in, because the gymnastics required to get to the can increased exponentially with each drink. Jen suggested that she could partially solve the problem by ducking out under the table, which inspired her father, whom I'll call Jim because that's his name, to say, "It should be easy for you; you'll end up under the table at some point tonight anyway." Still, it seemed like a reasonable solution until I noticed that she was spending a lot of time under the table in close proximity to her husband's lower half. With my usual restraint in front of Jen's mother, whom I'll call Patsy because -- surprise! -- that's her name, I made a big ruckus, saying that I'd thought this was a "family restaurant." Wounded by first her father, then by me, Jen decided to polish off another vat of wine.
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After we were all well lubricated, our waitress stopped by and recited her master's thesis on fondue cooking. There were three burners spread across the table, each warming an overdose of fat and cholesterol in the form of cheeses, chocolate or oil. Certain things should be dipped in cheese, and some needed to be cooked for three or five minutes in the oil. But we should not cook the cheese-dipped things in the oil, because then we might create a runaway chain reaction that would level half of Littleton and make Chernobyl look like a cakewalk. Assuming our cooking hadn't blown up the restaurant, we could identify our individual meals by the color-coded skewers. And if food fell off our skewers, we could use the "rescue spoon" to retrieve it. In the meantime, we should have fun. And did anyone need another vat of wine?
Theoretically, this setup is a great thing. It's very social, and you can all swap spit and pretend you're wife-swapping. Fondue also appeals to the basic guy hunter-gatherer instinct, since you stab your broccoli repeatedly until you can almost hear it scream in anguish in the molten cheese. But in reality, cooking like this presents a glaring problem: You have a bunch of semi-mature people with several drinks on board trying to remember the instructions, reaching all over each other in an effort to clog their arteries -- and doing so while armed with sharp skewers. By the end of the first course, we had the staff rushing to our table to discover the source of the thick cloud of acrid smoke we'd sent through the restaurant as we attempted to rescue our "rescue spoon."
The Melting Pot
2707 West Main Street in Littleton
When drinking, I have enough trouble keeping myself safe without having to worry about salmonella and E. coli and flesh-eating bacteria and fire. My brain cells are already working overtime remembering to keep ahead of the waitress on drink orders and listening to my bladder; it was impossible to cook my own meal, too. We survived the night only because we were chaperoned by Jim and Patsy; without them, I cannot recommend the Melting Pot for a raucous night out with your usual group of idiots.
You'd be safer staying home and frying bacon naked.