It's the ultimate social dining experience - a campfire in restaurant form. At Long Island's two all-fondue houses (Simply Fondue in Great Neck, The Melting Pot in Farmingdale), when forks meet in a communal pot, there's no telling what can ensue.
Before the merriment, though, comes the menu. At both restaurants, they're complicated enough to keep you pondering.
But no problem here. If you're out for a good time, rather than a square meal, we've got some helpful pointers:
1. Your server deserves mucho respect; he or she is also your personal chef and can bring you extra items to be dipped (fruit, bread, cake, vegetables) as well as provide useful information and safety tips.
2. Simplest works best. While your server may suggest a four-course meal (salad, cheese fondue, cooked-at-the-table main course and dessert fondue), you may want to do otherwise. Just ask Liz Narciso of Franklin Square, who held her son Kyle's 15th birthday celebration at The Melting Pot. By sticking to cheese and chocolate, plus a few appetizers, Narciso's party had a blast, and she came away with a bill of only $150 for a party of eight that included two toddlers.
3. Plan ahead and reserve, especially for a group celebration. Narciso reserved a semiprivate room for her son's party. Said birthday guy Kyle Narciso: "That was really cool."
4. Personalize. At Simply Fondue in Great Neck, a party of three - Brian Caltabiano of Hicksville, Sabina Wright of Huntington and Meaghan McKeown of Bayville - asked the waitress to reignite the surface of their chocolate fondue so they could toast (rather than just singe) their marshmallows before dipping them. "I like the experience of being around friends and making food exactly to my liking," says Caltabiano.
1. Don't even bother with an entree (spiced and marinated meat, fish or chicken). Those need to be simmered, pan-fried or deep-fried. It's more fun and lots less work to dip and swirl in a bubbling pot of cheese or chocolate.
2. If you do order a main course, make sure you don't let uncooked chicken touch cooked meat.
3. Don't forget you're dealing with bubbling or sizzling stuff. "It's hottest on the sides," says Laura, our dynamic waitress at The Melting Pot. The equally personable Rachel at Simply Fondue tells us not to touch the pot or eat off the fondue fork.
4. Don't rush. Your table is yours for at least two hours; make the most of it.
A couple at The Melting Pot sit opposite one another for the cheese fondue, but by the time they're ready for chocolate, they're side by side - getting their money's worth, for sure.
2377 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale
INFO 631-752-4242, meltingpot.com
COST From $86 a couple for a basic four-course dinner of cheese fondue, salad, entree and chocolate fondue ($76 a couple holiday special until Dec. 30); $8 a person for either cheese or chocolate fondue.
24 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck
INFO 516-466-4900, simplyfonduelongisland.com
COST $38 a person for basic four-course dinner ($30 for any three courses); $10 a person for either cheese or chocolate fondue. From 5 to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, get three courses for $22 or four for $30.
Is it safe to fondue?
Is it dangerous to dip and eat from a communal pot when sharing fondue? It isn't, says Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for Nassau County Department of Health. "Fondues are typically kept at a temperature that is high, so that wouldn't allow for the survival of bacteria or viruses," she said. She also added that there's nothing in the state sanitary code that prohibits customers from cooking their own food.