Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Melting Pot

Our spread of food for our main dishes.

A visit to The Melting Pot (2920 Calgary Trail) has been a long time coming. Like the French version of Asian hot pot, I was bound to like it. So, for my anniversary with Kirk, I made a date night reservation (through OpenTable; they also accept dining cheques) to mark our three years and counting together.

Our own private nook for two.

Our table was booked for 6:30pm. Yet, when we arrived, we still had to wait for at least 15 minutes after checking in before we were taken into the restaurant. I found that to be somewhat frustrating. While we stood by, I looked around at the lounge area. It has an open concept like most other restaurants. But, the middle of the tables held built-in hot plates to heat the food. Much to my surprise, when we were finally seated, we were taken past the wall of wine to the more private dining area. We went through what felt like a maze of little nooks until we were directed into a very intimate booth for two. Once we settled in, it felt very cozy. No one else was in sight and it was quiet.

Sassy Senorita Cocktail

We went through the drink menu. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of beer options, so Kirk went for a couple pints of Big Rock Grasshopper ale ($8 each). I always tend to go the cocktail route, so I tried the Sassy Senorita ($11.50). It was light and refreshing with a berry finish.

The knowledgeable server gave us the details on how their menu works. You can order a la carte, or purchase an entrée that comes with a cheese fondue, salad, and dessert alongside the price of the main for a full four-course experience. We opted for the latter.

 

Although the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue is their most popular, I was hoping for something where the cheese would be more prominent. We ended up going for the Quattro Formaggio. We watched as our server created the fondue right before our eyes (I never knew that wine was used as the base). He mixed and melted the ingredients all together until it was silky smooth. Flavoured with traditional pesto and sun dried tomato pesto, it was decadent. The cheese paired well with the apple, veggies, and bread provided, and, upon dipping, the cheese held on well to everything. We didn’t have to be concerned about any dripping off onto the table or our plates.

The salads that came after — Caesar for Kirk and Chevre Citrus for me — were rather petite. Considering the size, I felt like there was way too much of the dressing on mine. I did like the goat cheese and the dried berries though. Kirk’s Caesar salad was actually quite good with it’s use of pine nuts for texture.

Onto the main courses. Kirk selected the Alberta ($49.25), which consisted of Mushroom Ravioli, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Herb-Crusted Chicken. I chose the Steak Lovers ($59.25) entrée as it was all meat: Premium Filet Mignon, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and Garlic Pepper Sirloin. Taking into account that mine was a whole ten dollars more than Kirk’s, I think that I got my value out of it as the portion of beef was relatively generous. On the side was an extra helping of veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, and potatoes) for us to share.

The Court Bouillon broth being brought to the table.

With our emptied bowl of cheese now replaced with a pot of their standard Court Bouillon (seasoned vegetable broth), we got down to cooking. We were told to let the meats cook for around two minutes per piece; however, I know I let mine sit in the broth for longer at times. No food poisoning happening on my watch! Still, everything came out decently with the beef staying pretty tender. I also wasn’t sure how the rubs and marinades would fare in the broth, but the flavours remained prominent. For added variety, there were six different sauces provided. My fave were the sesame and curry. The goddess (with a cream cheese base) was great for stuffing the mushroom caps, too.

 

After polishing off our mains, all that was left was dessert. A pot of chocolate was dropped off at our table with a dish of fruit and sweets. We just started going for it without thinking. Turns out that our Flaming Turtle chocolate fondue wasn’t even complete. Our server returned to do the flambé and add in the caramel and nuts (supposed to be candied pecans, but they were out, so we took walnuts instead). I wasn’t a huge fan of the marshmallows or rice krispies. Nevertheless, the pound cake and fruit — bananas, strawberries, and pineapple — were delicious with the oozy chocolate. We also asked for seconds (free refills on the accompaniments are included) of the blondies.

Since it was our anniversary, the staff helped us to commemorate the occasion by offering us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, which we had with our dessert. It certainly made for a memorable evening out to be wined and dined in this fashion. For a few hours we really got to focus on each other without any other distractions. While this isn’t necessarily a place to drop in for a quick, casual bite, The Melting Pot should definitely be in the running when there’s cause for celebration.

The Melting Pot offers a Crave Combo Menu for $29.95 before 5pm and after 9pm.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Select

It has been almost 7 years since my last visit to Cafe Select, which has now been branded by new owners (their other restaurant is Packrat Louie just off Whyte Ave.) simply as Select in an effort to contemporize the name.

The restaurant itself has always been rather inconspicuous sitting on 106th Street just south of Jasper Avenue. Even though it had a reputation as an excellent restaurant specializing in French cuisine and it had existed in that same spot since my parents can remember, I never would have known about it had my friend not suggested we go for dessert one night. While we didn’t get to try anything on our first attempt to eat there (it was late and they were about to close), the restaurant certainly had a cozy feel to it, comforting and inviting.

When we eventually managed to sit down at a table there, it was to celebrate the same friend’s birthday. We enjoyed tea and dessert and I recall it being good, but maybe not overly memorable. What I can tell you is that food blogging wasn’t such a big thing back then and it was more important to get a photo of us together as opposed to pictures of the food.

2006 - Birthday Celebration

2006 – Birthday Celebration

Well, over the last couple years, I’ve found myself trying out more new restaurants and revisiting ones that for some reason or another I just never quite made it back to. I have Groupon to thank for that. It has actually been difficult to keep track of the vouchers I’ve purchased and, as such, I often find myself leaving their use until the last possible moment. This was certainly the case for my evening at Select.

In preparation, I made a reservation through OpenTable (it’s all about the points!), perused the menu online and, of course, read reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp. I like to know what I’m getting into even if it means feeling worried that I’m not going to get what I bargained for.

The first thing I want to say though, is for the people who complained about promptness of seating and service at the restaurant, I will gladly do the opposite and give the staff props for attentiveness. As soon as my companion and I walked into the doors, we were pleasantly greeted by a hostess who seated us at roomy booth. Our server came over within a couple of minutes to offer us water and throughout the night she was very friendly, she refilled our glasses without us having to ask, she checked in on us periodically, but not too often and she offered us meal suggestions.

The ambience of the place was also quite lovely. The restaurant is small, so if seated at tables rather than booths, it may have been a bit tighter. However, it was comfortable with the lighting creating a nice soft glow. Yet, it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t read the menu. Also, from what I can recall, I believe the space has been slightly revamped with new paint and art on the walls.

But, onto the food because, really, the most important thing about eating out is how the dishes stack up and I have to say that I give the restaurant a 7 out of 10 for what we managed to fit into our bellies that night.

The server started us off with a basket of mini cheese buns, which were soft and warm enough that the butter immediately melted upon contact. It is often said that the bread at the start of a meal can tell you a lot about how the rest of the food is going to be, and those little carb-loaded buns were a good sign.

Cheese buns...more, please?

Cheese buns…more, please?

The bread was followed by an appetizer of gnocchi fondue. The actual fondue is made of Fontina cheese and white wine, so it is a bit strong, but paired with the pan fried gnocchi (I’d say equal in quality to David Burke Townhouse and South Gate, both in NYC and both scrumptious), asparagus and prosciutto wrapped apple, it was a match made in heaven. At first I dipped everything separately just to see how the fondue went with each, but when all the flavours are paired together, that’s when you get the best results. The tartness of the apple with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the slight crispness from the outside of the gnocchi and from the asparagus paired with the Fontina cheese and white wine created nice texture and was absolutely delicious. My only disappointment was that there was a still a bit of fondue left and nothing left to dip in it.

Gnocchi Fondue

Gnocchi Fondue

Once we polished off our appetizer, our main courses arrived shortly after. I had heard good things about their panella, which is really their one and only vegan dish (also celiac friendly), so I decided to give it a go. Basically a square of chickpea polenta cut into two triangles atop a salad of spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and hazelnuts drizzled with sherry vinegar, it was quite the colourful plate. While it didn’t look like a lot of food, with the chickpeas providing so much protein, and the buns and appetizers that came before, I felt pretty full rather quickly. I did persevere though and for good reason. The chickpea polenta was done nicely – crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside. It had a lot of flavour as well. But, like the appetizer, I felt it was best when I got everything in one bite and was able to taste the palate as a whole. The salad underneath was great; the sherry vinegar added a nice bite to the mix. Overall, I’m not sure that this is a dish that would make me a regular patron, but I was certainly happy with it.

Panella

Panella

My dining partner decided to go with their Select burger. A beef patty with black truffle cheddar, greens, bacon jam (she asked to have this omitted), tomato relish and pickled onion, it sounded like a good choice. Turns out that was the furthest from the truth. The taste wasn’t bad. I had a couple bites and thought it had some nice layers to it, but the patty was not that thick and was definitely overcooked, leaving it rather dry. The fries that accompanied the burger were also overdone. My companion finished the burger despite that. She also mentioned to our server her dissatisfaction with the dish, saying it was as if it was made using a frozen store bought patty rather than fresh ground beef. The server was quite apologetic, leaving to tell the manager our comments and insisting that he would be by to talk to us.

IMAG2244

Select burger…very dry

We still had a few dollars to use up on our Groupon, so we decided to share a dessert. Since we were already stuffed, we wanted something a little lighter, which left us with either their meringue or their lemon tart. Because we couldn’t make up our minds, we left it to our server to make our decision for us. What we got was the lemon tart topped with a strawberry basil salsa. Before tasting the dessert, I had my reservations about it. I’ve never had basil paired with anything sweet before; I’ve always thought of it more as a savoury herb simply because I usually have it in sandwiches or pasta. But, this was quite the surprise. The lemon tart had just the right amount of tang in it with a nice cookie-like bottom balanced out by the sweetness from the strawberry salsa and an interesting hint of basil poking through every so often. In fact, it was so delectable that I wish we had ordered two of them because half (or less than as my friend was unable to put down her fork) just wasn’t enough.

Lemon tart...get your own!

Lemon tart…get your own!

All-in-all, I would say that the outing to Select was well worth it, even more so with the voucher. Just food with no drinks would have cost us $56 plus tax and tip, but the Groupon saved us $25. For two people and three courses, that’s not too bad.

My only qualm with the restaurant was that the manager never did come to speak to us about the entree. Honestly, it seemed like he was avoiding having to deal with the issue by spending about 20 minutes at another table that had ordered a bottle of wine. They never even offered to discount the dish, which is really something they should have done. Perhaps it’s because they saw us as patrons who weren’t spending the full amount, but the fact that the manager didn’t bother to handle a problem in his restaurant is something I’ll remember about the place. Those are the things people think of when they make a decision as to whether or not they’ll be back to dine again.

And, will I be back? Probably. I doubt it will be any time soon, but the satisfaction I got from 3 out of the 4 plates we did like is enough to keep this Edmonton staple in mind.