Fondue Follies - Joel Hall

Lately, I'm starting to notice that I'm becoming a bit of a "foodie." For those unfamiliar with the word, "foodie" is an informal, blanket term for people with an extreme interest in food and the food industry.

Perhaps, I'm falling into foodie trappings because I spend an enormous amount of my time outside of work "vegging out" on the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" and "Anthony Bourdain No Reservations," or perhaps, it is because I formally or informally review just about every restaurant I go to. Another, more likely reason I am becoming a foodie is because I like to eat and I'm always looking for new experiences.

The opportunity to try something new came during Midtown Restaurant Week. Catering to gastronomes and gluttons alike, Midtown Restaurant Week is a time during the last week of August, in which high-end restaurants, in and around, Midtown Atlanta lower the price of some of their signature dishes to give the general masses a chance to taste the high life.

A friend of mine recently proposed to his girlfriend around the time of her birthday, so there was more than reason to dine some place fancy. We decided to meet at a swanky fondue restaurant in Midtown.

I've only eaten fondue one other time in my life, but I had never been to a restaurant dedicated entirely to the art of fondue. Had I known that fondue is more than simply dipping already-prepared food into cheese and chocolate, I would have been more intimidated. For the uninitiated, it's a daunting task to even sort through the menu.

Like most fancy restaurants, there was a shortage of illustrations in the menu, so my friends and I spent the first 45 minutes of our meal trying to decipher the many combinations of cheeses, oils, and sauces required to customize the fondue cheese dip that serves as your appetizer. The cheese dip is a communal bowl shared by everybody at the table and the entrees are shared with a partner, so rather than having a normal, five-to-ten-minute menu discussion, the meal selection process became a drawn-out congressional hearing about the merits of various meats and cheeses.

After getting through the bewildering process of ordering the food, my eyes took notice of the boiler plate grafted into the middle of the table. With America being as litigious as it is, the meal came with a lot of disclaimers. As the menu items were brought to us, each course was interrupted by a 30-second public service announcement about how hot this plate is, how hot that bowl is, how, by the love of God, you shouldn't touch that thing, and so on. It was almost like sitting through a two-and-a-half-hour, prescription-drug commercial, but with food instead of drugs.

After gorging ourselves on a pot full of cheese and the mountain of dipping bread that came with it, my friends and I completely forgot there was an entrée on its way. The entrée that came, however, wasn't a seared chicken breast or a steak dinner, but a pot of boiling oil, and an assortment of raw meats we were required to cook ourselves.

I'm a big fan of sushi, but I like to leave the preparation of raw meat to professionals. The plate we received came with a cornucopia of yet-to-be cooked beef, pork, chicken, shrimp and shellfish, each with its own frying batter, multiple sauce pairings -- and its own cooking time.

Without stopwatches or meat thermometers, four people trying to batter and fry meats in the same pot at the same time got kind of confusing. Eating the meat was just as confusing, due to the fact the table was covered in every sauce imaginable and dipping beef into a fish sauce would be a tragedy.

I'm glad I was able to experience fondue for myself, but next time, I am just going to keep it simple and stick to chicken nuggets.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.