We have a tradition in our family in which the birthday child is taken out to dinner to the restaurant of his choice on the eve of his special day. In the early days of this custom, we had to institute a few guidelines, the most important being that the restaurant had to have a waiter or waitress… who came to your table… and took your order. Setting this framework helped some, but not entirely as Chase still insists that each and every year we go to Hibachi on his birthday. Because nothing marks another year of maturation and sophistication better than a grease fire, quarts of soy sauce, and lava-hot projectile baby shrimp. I always leave there smelling worse than I did when they allowed smoking in bars. Eau d’terriyaki. For her.
But it wasn’t the smell of terriyaki, but the smell of promise in the air this week because Noah was in the position to choose the venue. I made it clear to him that we would be glad to take him DOWNTOWN on a school night for the occasion, suggesting a few standout Stephen Starr or Jose Garces hotspots I knew Dave and I he would enjoy. After pondering Buddakan, DiStrito, Pod or Jones he announced that his decision had been made. We would be dining at…..
The Melting Pot
Dubbed as a “four-course fondue experience”, the Melting Pot is a local chain, and most likely has knock-offs placed in every strip mall around the country. It is a destination and celebration venue for middle class couples desperate for an evening of faux romance or large parties who would prefer the distraction of cooking their own food — one painstaking bite at a time — rather than dealing with the pressure to talk to one another. The booths are each tucked away to offer maximum privacy or solitary confinement depending to which group you belong. It is novelty dining at its best – and we made the best of it, bringing Mom and Aunt Cyn along to make it a real celebration, all the while dreaming of the hot beignets we could have been eating a Buddakan.
One might argue that the best course at The Melting Pot is the first course of cheese fondue. Nothing says stop, heart, stop I love you like vats of gooey cheddar and Gruyere served with carbs galore bread cubes, green apples and nacho chips. Several times during this course I was tempted to make my “cheesus” joke in which I point out how much I love Cheesus. But somehow I refrained – probably because I was to busy stuffing myself.
If you are wearing an elastic waistband still have room after the cheese course, you find yourself struggling through a second salad course which is “free” – and thus unavoidable because we Americans WILL NOT turn down free food. And then you come to the third or main course at which time you are sternly instructed not to cross your skewers or let your raw food touch your cooked food or face certain gastronomical peril. It is only after you survive this cholesterol lined gauntlet that you arrive at the mother land – the one reason Noah selected the Melting Pot in the first place – DESSERT.
No matter how stuffed you are from the prior three courses, your stomach remarkably re-opens for the fourth course plate of cheesecake, marshmallows, rice krispy treats, pound cake, brownies, bananas and strawberries they place before two pots of melted chocolate. Noah simply could not contain himself as he dove in:
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!
I was about to give Noah the first lecture of his fourteenth year and explain to him why he shouldn’t shout the Lord’s name in vain in public places even when very excited about melted chocolate — but I decided against it.
Because I didn’t have to.
Because the priest… yes keep reading…. the priest secretly tucked away at the NEXT booth popped his head around the wall and complimented Noah on his “praying.”
And that’s the story of how this year’s fifth course came to be: Melted Mother, served very warm and flushed, beneath the table.
Next year, I’m going to suggest somewhere a little less intimate… like Hibachi.