It had been too many years since I'd indulged in fondue -- that fun and fatty composition of cheese, oil, broth, wine or chocolate heated to bubbling in a tabletop cauldron, then plunged with any variety of breads, fruit, vegetables, meats and cakes. So when my dining companion suggested a night of sticking and dipping last month, I was all over it.
As far as I know, the Valley's only fondue facility is the Melting Pot in Scottsdale, and that's where we went. It was a blast -- enough rolling steam from the boiling pot to curl our hair, and long-handled, glinty, sharp forks with which to do battle and spear our flash-cooked creations.
So I was happy to hear that there's a second Melting Pot opening later this summer at 36th Street and Ray in Ahwatukee. It's fondue, take two, I guess.
Fondue (French for "melted") was a trendy experience for American diners in the '70s, and I'm poised for its comeback. It's hardly been a flash in the pot abroad: Fondue recipes date all the way back to 1826, and its popularity in Europe was such that special ration cards were issued for it during World War II. Recently, Bon Appétit is helping bring the rich dish back. The mag's March issue includes mouth-watering fondue appetizers like Gruyère and caramelized shallots dipped with boiled red-skinned baby potatoes and sourdough baguette.
The Melting Pot, a national chain, offers traditional fondue fare that, while not of Bon Appétit caliber, does come with a few surprises. Creative takes include fiesta cheese dip (with jalapeños) and low-fat but delicious court bouillon dip (vegetable broth). Some dippers are pretty different, too, including twin lobster tails, portobello mushrooms, duck breast, pot stickers and periodically, bison.
Dessert fondues could choke the most serious chocoholic, with nine indulgent blends such as white chocolate and amaretto; dark chocolate, marshmallow cream and Oreo cookies; and milk chocolate flambéed with caramel and chopped pecans.
Looking for something lighter? A relatively recent introduction to traditional Japanese cookery is a fonduelike dish called shabu-shabu, so named for the swishing sound the meat makes as it is chopstick-swirled through boiling broth. It's prepared at the table, much like the Melting Pot's court-bouillon fondue. To sample shabu-shabu, saunter over to Sushi on Shea in Scottsdale.
C-Yu Later: C-Fu Gourmet in Phoenix has closed. Folks answering the phone at the original Chandler location lament that the expansion eatery shut its doors three weeks ago due to lack of traffic.
What's the deal? The Chandler C-Fu long has been lauded for its superior seafood and dim sum, albeit in stripped-down warehouse-style surroundings on the southwestern corner of Dobson and Warner roads.
When the second C-Fu opened at 32nd Street and Lincoln last September, however, it was with a more upscale bent. This outlet was fancy, with a deluxe sushi bar. And rather than the authentic exotica that made C-Fu famous, the new place offered trendy dishes like Mongolian ostrich and Chinese chicken salad. Instead of Chandler's $8 average entrees, the Phoenix shop charged more like $18.
Unfortunately, the uneven cuisine simply couldn't compete with other swanky Chinese choices like Bamboo Club and P.F. Chang's. So for now, C-Fu is sticking to what it does best -- serving fresh and inexpensive Hong Kong-style Chinese food.
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Getting Some West and Relaxation: Some of our more popular restaurants around town will be closed for vacation this summer. French Ambiance, the precious but tasty cafe at 44th Street and Camelback, will be shuttered from July 15 to August 22. And Uncle Sam's, one of my all-time favorite hoagie/pizza/beer pubs located at 32nd Street and Shea, is closing August 7 through 12.
Chrysa Kaufman, owner of Rancho Pinot Grill, meanwhile, will close her restaurant for vacation July 2 though 18. After that, the grill will be open only Wednesday through Saturday until August 21. When Rancho Pinot reopens full-time, Kaufman hopes to have a complete liquor license (supplementing the current beer and wine available there now).
Closed Call: The scythe of slower summer sales has fallen on a couple of other restaurants, too. For the past several weeks, the phone at Tempe's Spectrum on the Shores has been picked up by voice mail, informing us that the restaurant is "temporarily" closed, with no anticipated date of reopening. Messages left have not been returned.
I can't raise a soul at Dominic's Catfish & Fixins, either, formerly north of Indian School on 26th Avenue. The number has been reassigned, with no forwarding information available.