Monday, March 10, 2008

Reprise on a food experience in Tucson

Below you can find the original review of The Melting Pot. Tonight we were invited back to have a repeat experience, guests of the owner Rich Abrahamson. It was the night to remember that The Melting Pot has the reputation of providing!

Again we took our daughter and son-in-law. One development in the intervening two months is that our daughter now knows that she is gluten-sensitive. This means she and I shared one pot and the men shared the other.

The first great surprise was that now The Melting Pot not only has a list of which foods contain gluten but they remembered that I am gluten-intolerant and told me right up front which choices would be good for me. This was a service for which I am very grateful: I find it a real challenge to eat out just because of the lack of information from the restaurant and ignorance from most waitpersons about what might be safe for me to eat.

So let's talk about our wonderful waitperson from this evening. This was Rob, the same person who apparently was having a bad night when we were last at The Melting Pot. He's the one who tonight anticipated our need to know about the gluten-free options.

Not only that, he was attentive, lively, energetic, and responsive. At times he apparently could not be at our table, but a substitute was always there to take his place, to attend to a need, to adjust the temperature on the pots, or to check on our water supply. Sometimes this was the manager.

Last time we had been promised a visit by the manager but it had not materialized. Tonight we saw him 3 times at our table, and then once more as he held the door for us when it was time to leave.

It is true that we were treated very well, and what a difference it makes in the dining experience! We really felt like we were important guests, and last time I felt that way I was eating in the dining room at Ventana Canyon with a harpist playing in the background and one waiter assigned to each guest. So our wonderful treatment really was an unexpected delight.

As for the food, it was excellent. The traditional swiss fondue is definitely my favorite, though the menu has several options to choose from. The balance of flavors was just right in my opinion. Interestingly, because they couldn't put flour in our fondue, it was on the runny side compared to the norm, but that was a perfect 'problem': the rice bread we brought from home to dip in it is on the dry side - but the combination of the two was just right.

The cheese fondue was accompanied by raw veggies as well as various breads for those who are not gluten-sensitive. It appeared the cauliflower was parboiled, because it cooked to some degree while sitting in the cheese, with a delightful result - al dente cauliflower steeped in intensely Swiss melted cheese. The other veggies, carrots and celery, didn't have the same appeal, nor did the crunchy, tart apples - they were excellent, but no match for the cauliflower.

Next came the salad course. Excellent, tasty, fresh, great combinations and great dressings - the salads alone were worth the visit (to paraphrase Prot from KPax).

The third course is outrageous! We chose the middle option that included lobster tail. And beef and chicken and shrimp and pork and more beef. And about 8 dipping sauces, though I may have lost count. These are served precut into hefty chunks and in many cases marinated or otherwise preflavored. To my taste the flavor was a bit overdone, with all the sauces to add yet more complexities, and I heard my son-in-law express the same opinion. All this was served with potatoes (which take a long time to cook!), mushrooms (perfect w/ the green goddess sauce), zucchini, and my absolute favorite, broccoli. We put all the veggies into the heated oil without any batters (because of the gluten issue) and found the broccoli came out with an unusually appealing flavor that could have been the centerpiece of a great meal.

Finally came the dessert. We chose plain dark chocolate, while the men picked out the new special, bananas with dulce de leche, white chocolate, and cinnamon - crackling cinnamon it was, sprinkled into the flames of the drenched chocolate. A lot of fun to watch! Our dark chocolate was a delight and the men liked the dessert as well - though none of us at that point had any need of nourishment at all.

Rob didn't pester us, but he was attentive. I saw him walking past on some other errand a few times, with a glance in our direction to make sure all was well, which it was.

We had good conversation with a smooth flow of food, some hefty decision-making along the way, and the need only once to turn the heat down on the pots ourselves. (The controls are a little out of the way, not really designed for guest-control.)

The whole evening was enjoyable. Rob's energy and pleasantness were dead-on appropriate, with a quick apology first thing in the evening for last time's dicey encounter, and then it was exactly what we needed in terms of service, conversation, explanations, and privacy.

This was a great evening at The Melting Pot! Don't think of going there if you just want to eat. First off, if food is your goal, you'll get more than enough and then you run the danger of bursting. Go if you want to have an evening of great conversation, interesting foods, and an interactive experience.

Make no mistake: The Melting Pot is not inexpensive, and I can't imagine eating there just any old time I didn't have something in the fridge. But our group of 4 ate LOTS of food for just over $50 each, and had a fun and a relaxed time too. Would we go back? Yes, certainly, if we had something to celebrate.

In fact, I'm trying to think of the next celebration we might bump into on the calendar. Already our son-in-law asked if they'd be open in November, when he and our daughter celebrate their wedding anniversary.

We'd like to thank owner Rich Abrahamson for his impressively quick and cordial response to our distress from the earlier visit, and Rob for an enjoyable evening.

Unless you like to read the whole story, there's no need to read below this line. This is the old review. I leave it here so you can understand some of the points from this second and nearly perfect experience.


We took our son-in-law and family to The Melting Pot for his birthday. They love that place, and of course can't afford to go. They have been raving about the service since their anniversary last fall when they splurged. I was ready to help this great young man celebrate in style!

The food was good. But the service was among the worst I've ever had. Ten minutes to menus. Twenty minutes to taking the order. Then the melted cheese is supposed to come because it's cooked at the table. But that took almost 25 more minutes, and happened only after the SIL went to find out where it was.

It tasted great, but we ran out of dippers: fruit, or bread for the bread-eaters. And the cheese was turned up too high and we kept burning our mouths. Soon we were done. The fine-tuned adjustments to the cooking vessels and constant refills of dippers they had experienced before never happened.

When that was finally cleared up, we waiting for the salad course. And waited. And waited. Finally I got up and went to see what I could find out. I expected to find a bustling restaurant, which would explain the inattention. But almost all the seats were empty. I spent several minutes trying to talk to the front-desk girl, who had told me to wait while she seated some customers - but then didn't reappear. Finally I found her, and after talking to her for a bit, the waiter showed up from the direction of the bar and said our salads would be right out. And the front-desk girl said the manager would come talk to us. Very good!

We waited only another 4-5 minutes for the salads, but the manager never showed up. While we had the waiter's attention, we also asked for more water.

We finished the salads, had another wait of perhaps 10 minutes, and the main course began to appear: first the broth and oil, then after another wait, lovely fresh meats and shrimp and a few vegetables, not nearly enough in my opinion. We began to cook our meal, but mostly we were tired and ready to go home.

We gamely cooked our portions and nibbled at them. I took most of mine home. The food was beautifully fresh if a little over-spiced. Our SIL did fine eating his!

Another wait, and the table was cleared. Another wait and the desserts appeared.

I like to linger over a good meal and enjoy the company. That had been our plan for the evening. But what we lingered over were huge gaps in service, and then when the main course finally did arrive, a rush to eat because it was so late - about 9:30 pm. Dessert, which had sounded like so much fun when we chose the restaurant for this special occasion, was just something to get done with.

Finally with the dessert, after another request, came the refills of water.

Somewhere during one of the waits a young man in a shirt and tie stopped by and asked how the food was. Maybe that was the manager. If so, he didn't address our issues. He stopped by at another table as well, so I don't think that counted as our trouble-shooting visit.

We had brought two small grandsons (ages 3 and 1) with us, and told the girl at the front desk that we wouldn't need a big booth - they would just nibble a few things. She said, 'Oh, that's ok' and put us at a big booth anyway, where one of the boys promptly lay down and tried to go to sleep. Eventually we had someone come and get the baby because the evening was dragging on for so long. So we were surprised when we went out to get our check (it didn't come to our table in a timely manner so we intercepted it at the front desk) and found that it had an 18% gratuity added on because we had 6 settings. NO, we did not - we had 4, plus a toddler who had filled up on the bread we brought with us. Our waiter said he thought there were 6 - shows how attentive he was! The check was corrected and we paid a tip we felt was generous under the circumstances.

We certainly won't waste an evening at the Foothills Mall Melting Pot again, and recommend that others don't. Or if you do, expect to get a lot of exercise finding the waitperson.

We left at 10 pm. Total time: 2 hrs 40 min. Total time eating: 40 min. PL

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