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Monday, March 21, 2005
The return of the Melting Pot
The place: The newly relocated Melting Pot restaurant in downtown Portland. The challenge: pulling a broken pot sticker out of a boiling vat of oil using only a fondue skewer.
"Use the big spoon. That's why they gave it to us," someone suggested.
"Never," I insisted. After a minute of poking and prodding, the pot sticker broke in two. I managed to spear one half but the other was lost in depths of the pot along with numerous other pieces of meat we had failed to retrieve.
Fondue ain't easy and that's probably why there are so few restaurants in town devoted to this weird culinary art. The local Melting Pot franchise, which once sat on the edge of SW Portland, now resides in an subterranean space under the corner of SW 6th and Main. The windowless atmosphere is nothing to brag about but that's not what draws diners into its Phantom of the Opera meets PF Chang's atmosphere. The Melting Pot is one of the few restaurants in town that seats you in front of a crock pot, hands you a pair of sharp metal skewers and lets you figure out everything on your own. Unlike Dairy Queen or the Portland Grill, there's at least a slight risk that someone in your party may wind up impaled or seriously burnt by the time the desert menu arrives.
The tables at The Melting Pot each contain a stove burner and a crock pot in the center. After you've selected your salad and entree, the waiter brings out a plate of raw meat. Once the oil in the pot reaches boiling, it's time to start cooking. 90 seconds for vegetables. 120 for meats. We went with The Pacific Rim entree, which serves two and contained portions of beef, chicken, duck, pork and pot stickers along with a bowl of assorted vegetables.
It sounds simple, sure. Stick the meat in the pot. Wait. Eat. Repeat. But the Melting Pot doesn't offer stop watches so it's easy to lose track of time. Plus, if you strictly follow the two minute guideline meat typically comes out medium rare. If you're shooting for well done, you'll have to experiment in order to get the time down right.
Once you suspect the meat is done, getting it out of the pot can be tricky. If it slides off the skewer it could be lost forever. As mentioned above, the Melting Pot provides a spoon but convincing everyone to remove their skewers so you can track down a lost mushroom can be a pain. As a result, by the end of the main course our pot was filled with charred MIA vegetables and chunks o' duck.
Other courses are easier. Losing a piece of bread in an appetizer pot full of melted cheddar is all but impossible. Ditto for desert selections featuring fresh fruit, marshmallows and melted milk chocolate.
The menu is spendy but well worth it for the opportunity to play with sharp sticks, raw meat and bubbling vats. The Melting Pot gets my vote for Portland's best disaster waiting to happen that takes it theme from old Tarzan movies.