The Melting Pot

Dip into confusing dining
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  October 29, 2008
1.0 1.0 Stars

melting-pot_inside.jpg
LOBSTER FONDUE: Don’t overcook the protein, which can be dipped in six sauces.

The Melting Pot | 617.357.7007 | 76 Arlington Street (Park Plaza Hotel), Boston | Open Mon–Thurs, 4–11 pm; Fri, 4 pm–midnight; Sat, 3 pm–midnight; and Sun, 3 pm–midnight | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking at hotel entrance, $16 | Sidewalk-level access
Back when George W. Bush was smart enough to get a Harvard MBA, he began — as do all first-year students — with Production and Operations Management (POM), the basic barrier course. The class uses the case method, and the fun lesson in those days was that of Benihana, a chain of Japanese-style steak houses where waiter-chefs grill your food in front of you. In terms of POM, Benihana streamlines production by merging the roles of cook and waiter, and operates more efficiently by seating people with strangers at circular tables. The Melting Pot will soon have twice as many locations as Benihana, in part by doing the same trick with waiters as chefs. But by applying it to fondue — broadly defined here to include variations of the Mongolian hot pot — they’re able to charge mass-steak-house prices for less protein. Bring your marketing-class notebook, because part of the formula is for the menu to convince people that a fondue dinner consists of four courses, and to make the 16-page menu so confusing that most people buy a prix-fixe combination. 

You can eat pretty well at the Melting Pot, but you need some focus and discipline. The urge to try everything makes for a diminished experience here, as it does at a wedding buffet. (Remember Nadeau’s Law of Buffets: look it over first, then take no more than three or four things you like.)

The menu says you should start with cheese fondue ($16/one or two; $8/each additional person). They offer six kinds, but four of you can usually have only one, since there’s a single heating element per table. (Tables for six have two heating elements.) If you’re not going for a package, give a nod to fondue history with the “Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue.” The waiter heats up your pot and makes a production number out of mixing six ingredients in several batches. This is fondue as it was made by young couples with wedding-gift fondue sets in the 1970s. The wine never fully cooks off, so it’s sort of heady melted cheese, rolled up like spaghetti on cubes of bread (not stale enough our night) at the end of long fondue forks. You also have cauliflower florets, celery, and cubes of Granny Smith apple. You’ll run out of cheese before you run out of dipping food, so stick with bread and apples.

The Melting Pot experience is supposed to include a choice of five salads ($7 à la carte). But I wasn’t impressed, in part because they’re small, and mostly because of their old-fashioned ingredients like freight-car tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. The house salad has tomatoes, cucumbers, and a sliced egg. And the “featured” Southwestern Cobb salad isn’t very Southwestern-tasting. So the Caesar salad is the winner since it doesn’t have tomatoes, and does have pretty good cheese-fondue bread croutons, plus pine nuts.

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