The fates of fondue were against me. The fondue mood had struck a few times lately and I'd called up Forever Fondue several times to get a table, only to be told that the only reservations available were for 5 and 9:30 p.m. Five o'clock may be good for seniors, and dinner at 9:30 works for my European friends, but neither is good for me.
Luckily, I have a stubborn, mulish streak and a tendency for persistence, so on my fourth try in less than a week I finally scored a table. We got seated just before 6 p.m., just in time to catch the last few minutes of the daily happy hour, during which the cheese fondue is half-off, a steal at only $3 per person, and during which specials on beer and wine are offered. Fondue lore has it that wine or hot tea is the best accompaniment so you don't end up with a brick of cheese in your stomach, but I dare to down Trappist ales (made by monks!) or fruity lambic beers because I like the way they cut the richness of the cheese.
Forever Fondue offers a few cheddar fondues, including one flavored with jalapeños and another with rich lobster bisque, but I prefer the original European Swiss fondue, which starts with a good measure of white wine that heats up in the pot until it's hot enough to melt a blend of Swiss Emmental and Gruyere cheeses.
Authentic fondue calls for a cut garlic clove to be rubbed on the interior of the pot for subtle flavor, but here they add a heaping spoonful of minced garlic to the mix. It packs a serious garlic wallop, so make sure your dining companion also indulges before you get your make-out on. A shot of Kirsch, a cherry brandy, is added at the end to give the fondue a boozy tang.
For dipping, the cheese fondue comes with a basket of cubed French, rye and pumpernickel breads of fair but not ideal crustiness, plus some chunks of raw veggies and green apple. The addition of a few small boiled potatoes would have also been nice, but when you're paying the $3 happy-hour price, there's not much room for complaints. Even at the full $6 price, the portion is ample. After all, how much melted cheese can one eat? I'm not quite sure yet, but I'm still doing much personal investigation into that matter.
The entrée fondues, made up of a variety of raw meats and seafood that you cook in simmering broth, can be had à la carte or as part of the all-inclusive, four-course meals that average around $35. I'm not a big fan of these boiled dinners, maybe because I'm used to more flavorful Asian hot pots. I would be into the kind of main-course fondue where you sizzle the meat in pots of hot oil, but that might be too great a safety hazard for this kind of chain restaurant. Skipping the meat course means you'll have enough room for the chocolate fondue, which is pretty much a compulsory order here.
If a bowl of molten chocolate goodness doesn't make you happy, then you are dead inside, and I'm sad for you. On this night, I was with a friend who'd just gotten some rotten job news, and the arrival of our dark-chocolate fondue lifted her mood several notches. Dunking squares of Rice Krispies treats into chocolate is a childhood fantasy come true, and strawberries, pineapple and banana pieces lose their virtue after being drenched in the sweet ooze.
They used to also put out marshmallows, but our waitress said those have inexplicably been taken off the menu. Those marshmallows need to return and replace the mealy chunks of pound cake or the soft cheesecake slices that are offered alternatively. Neither is solid enough to dip or terribly tasty, for that matter. We were instructed to spoon chocolate over the cake pieces and eat them off the plate, which left us frustrated, fondue forks in hand. Again, the amount of dippers was adequate, but we could have used a few more edible vehicles to help convey the chocolate from fondue pot to mouth.
A jaunt to Forever Fondue is a fun exercise in sharing and interactive eating. It's a great place to fulfill a cheese or chocolate craving and to have a bit of fun poking food, or your friends, with sharp pointy objects. Be sure to make reservations, though, so you're assured fondue satisfaction. I can attest to the bitter disappointment of unrealized fondue dreams.
Forever Fondue, 909 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858-551-4509 and 6110 Friars Road, Mission Valley, 619-295-7792.
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