So much for the entertainment. For taste, the cheeses are good though not fabulous. They are produced by Wisconsin-based Roth Käse, a serious, traditional cheesemaker that has won awards for some of its varieties. But the Gruyère, for example, is relatively young, aged six to twelve months; its youth confers more moisture and better meltability but not as much flavor. Nor did the server manage to blend it into the smooth creamy swirl of a great fondue in which every element is seamlessly incorporated. Still, I could have happily overlooked the fromage factor if the Melting Pot had had better bread to dip in it. Crusty bread is essential for good fondue, but this was simply cubes of softy sort-of baguettes from a commercial bakery in Chicago. (I was tempted to smuggle in one of the first-rate loaves from Cafe Japon around the corner on Liberty.) Also provided for dipping are cubed apples and inch lengths of celery. The veggies and even the bread were better than the round supermarket-style corn chips served with the artichoke-spinach Butterkäse-Fontina fondue I had on my next visit. It felt like the office Christmas party, circa 1985.
We followed the fondue with salads. Of the two I tried, a Caesar and a California, both had good crisp greens, interesting garnishes, and awful dressings—the Caesar’s a watery-fishy mix, and the California’s a sugary raspberry vinaigrette.