Looking for an idea for a last-minute Valentine's Day dinner? There are few things more romantic than fondue.
Not everything from the '70s deserved to go down in flames. The Eagles still are filling stadiums, for example, and fondue still is filling restaurants all over the country, most notably the links in the Melting Pot chain. Its Boca Park location is Las Vegas' only dedicated fondue restaurant. As such, it tends to do quite well during the valentine season, said server Troy Vashon.
"It's our busiest day of the year, definitely," he said of Valentine's Day.
Vashon said the rush at the Melting Pot actually started Tuesday and will continue right up through Monday. They're even opening early on the big day - at 2 p.m. - and, as of press time, the only reservations available were between 2 and 3 p.m.
So what is it about fondue and romance? Vashon, who has worked for the Melting Pot for seven years, said the link is inherent.
"I think it's just the whole thing with the cheese and the chocolate, and everything being made at the table," he said. "You can actually feed each other, and the whole strawberries and chocolate is very romantic."
Not to mention the private booths.
Steve Aguglia, chef de cuisine at 35 Steaks + Martinis at the Hard Rock Hotel, finds fondue so romantic that he put it on the menu just for Valentine's Day - chocolate, with marshmallows, angel food cake, strawberries and brownie bites for dipping.
"To me, it's the best way to serve dessert for Valentine's Day," Aguglia said. "It's interactive; it's not just a dessert on a plate that they're sharing. They can feed each other; that's where a lot of the romance comes in.
"And who doesn't love chocolate?"
Strip House at Planet Hollywood Resort serves a fondue all year, and its unconventional nature illustrates the vast flexibility of the dish. Executive chef John Schenk said his blue-cheese-based steak sauce was wildly popular and he decided to put it to broader use.
"We're always looking for dishes that can be table shares," Schenk said. "It's that community spirit; it becomes more familial. In most dining experiences, those shared things are what really break down the separation of people. It becomes more comfortable, more familiar."
The Strip House dish is called warm garlic bread with Gorgonzola fondue.
"It's not like a real fondue," Schenk said, "really just like a dunking dish."
Schenk said his first fondue memory is from a ski trip in France.
"The first one I had was a good one," he said. That first fondue was a duo, with one pot of cheese and one of oil for cooking beef.
"People like cheese," he said. "If you run into a really well-balanced one, it's very savory; it just captures your attention.
"And anytime you can cook meat in oil, you know it's going to be good. It's a combination that has a lot of umami in it."
Whether fondue is in or not doesn't matter much to Schenk. For one thing, he said, his wife likes it, and he's making it for her birthday.
"I've seen fondue come in and out and I've stopped listening to what's trendy, and listen to what my customers like," he said.
And remember what he said about fondue fostering a familial spirit? That can take on a literal meaning, said Vashon at the Melting Pot.
"We have a lot of proposals at our restaurant," he said. "I'd say between six and 12 a year. The groom-to-be will give us the diamond ring and we'll make it all fancy on our chocolate fondue. It's kind of cool that we're a part of that. And a lot of people do come back every year because it's the place they proposed or they met or they had their first dinner together."
Besides the cutting-up of the dippers, most fondues are fairly quick to put together; the time comes afterward, when you linger over it together. For these recipes, you can get the ingredients tonight and put it together on Thursday.
BOURBON BACON CHEDDAR FONDUE
2¾ cups (11 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup light beer
4 teaspoons prepared horseradish
4 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 tablespoons chopped cooked bacon
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
4 teaspoons chopped scallions
Toss the cheese with the flour in a bowl. Place a metal bowl over a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water (or use a double boiler). Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and pour the beer into the bowl. Stir in the horseradish, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, using a fork. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add half of the cheese and cook until melted, stirring constantly in a circular motion. Add remaining cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly after each addition until melted.
Pour the bourbon slowly around the edge of the bowl. Pull the cheese mixture away from the edge of the bowl and cook for about 30 seconds, or until the alcohol cooks off. Stir the bourbon into the cheese. Fold in the bacon and pepper. Pour into a warm fondue pot and keep warm over low heat. Garnish with scallions.
Serves 4 to 6.
- Recipe from The Melting Pot
1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
1½ cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons kirsch (optional)
½ pound Emmental cheese, coarsely grated (2 cups)
½ pound Gruyere, coarsely grated (2 cups)
Cubes of French bread, apple, pear, roasted potatoes or raw red pepper or blanched broccoli florets for dipping
Rub inside of a 4-quart heavy pot with cut sides of garlic, then discard garlic. Add wine to pot and bring just to a simmer over moderate heat.
Stir together cornstarch and kirsch (if using; otherwise, use water or wine) in a cup.
Gradually add cheese to pot and cook, stirring constantly in a zigzag pattern (not a circular motion) to prevent cheese from balling up, until cheese is just melted and creamy (do not let boil). Stir cornstarch mixture again and stir into fondue. Bring fondue to a simmer and cook, stirring, until thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to fondue pot set over a flame.
- Recipe from Gourmet magazine
GERMAN CHEDDAR AND BEER FONDUE
10 ounces (2½ cups) shredded sharp cheddar
4 to 6 ounces, Gruyere, shredded
1 rounded tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup German lager beer
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
A few drops hot sauce
A few drops Worcestershire sauce
Cubed or thick-sliced and browned wursts, mini party franks, blanched cauliflower florets, mini gherkins, pickled onions, or cubed rye, pumpernickel or sourdough bread
Combine cheeses in a bowl with flour. Add beer to a small pot and bring up to a bubble over medium heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and add cheese in handfuls. Stir constantly, melting the cheese in batches. Stir in a figure-eight pattern with wooden spoon. When the cheese has been incorporated fully, stir in the mustard, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Transfer fondue to warm fondue pot.
Serve with dippers of choice.
- Recipe adapted from the Food Network
SHRIMP BOUILLABAISSE FONDUE
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2¼ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups diced fennel bulb (about 1 bulb)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
9 ounces French bread, toasted and cut into 1-inch cubes
Combine first five ingredients in a bowl; toss gently to coat. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp mixture; saute 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove shrimp from pan; set aside. Add fennel and minced garlic to pan; saute 3 minutes or until tender. Add wine and next 4 ingredients (wine through tomatoes). Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Place mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour into a fondue pot; keep warm over medium flame. Serve with shrimp and bread.
- Recipe from Cooking Light
MISSISSIPPI MUD FONDUE
1 cup heavy cream
1 12-ounce package dark chocolate morsels
1 7½-ounce jar marshmallow creme
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Brownies, biscotti, graham crackers, marshmallows, chopped toasted pecans, chopped candied ginger
Bring cream to a boil in a large heavy-duty saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer. Add chocolate morsels and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme and vanilla, stirring constantly until smooth. Transfer to fondue pot. Keep warm. Serve with desired accompaniments.
Makes 4 cups.
- Recipe from Southern Living
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.