Dreaming of Fondue
Just Don’t Double-Dip at Swissotel’s CafÉ Suisse
Winter Fondue Promotion
CafÉ Suisse, Swissotel Boston
$12 to $34
Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese -- fondue, mostly.” If Robert Lewis Stevenson had been to The Swissotel’s CafÉ Suisse, he might have started Treasure Island with that line.
The restaurant is hidden away on the third floor of the Swissotel. The atmosphere is subdued, an eclectic mixture of music faintly playing in the background as mini lamps flickered on the small tables. The waiter started by presenting a basket of bread and glasses of water.
There were two types of bread, a white roll and a wheat roll, both of which were served with small balls of butter. The latter had a pleasantly nutty taste, with a sesame covered crusty outside and a sunflower-seed flavored doughy inside. This was more to my preference, since the former was rather bland, with a strangely porous texture.
The dinner then began with two cheese courses, a traditional Swiss cheese fondue and the Mediterranean cheese fondue. The fondue experience was like a sacred ceremony, with the waiter successively placing down alcohol burners, plates, three-pronged forks, baskets of bread chunks, plates of vegetables, and ending finally with the divine pots of cheese.
After watching me gawk at the bubbling fondue suspiciously, the waiter decided to liberate me from my primitive ways and explained how to eat fondue. The bread is picked up by the fork, swirled in the molten cheese, and then eaten. Or, in my version, the bread is swirled in the cheese, falls off the fork, and then searched for by random jabbing in the pot.
Nevertheless, even with my fondue unsophistication, the taste of the cheese was startlingly delicious. The Swiss was a creamy colored blend of Gruyere and Emmental cheeses, while the carroty tinted Mediterranean had specks of red from the pesto, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes added to the aforementioned cheeses. Both also unexpectedly had hints of wine, as I rapidly discovered from my first tangy taste bud jolt.
After the first shock, the fondue quickly became quite enjoyable, my favorite being the plum tomatoes dipped in the Mediterranean. The sharp, gooey cheese contrasted effortlessly with the sweet, cool inside of the tomatoes. The lighter taste of the Swiss definitely suited the bread more since it was less overpowering.
Next came three meat courses, the chicken chinoise, beef sirloin shabu shabu, and three jewels of the sea, Fondue Chinoise, all of which were served with bowls of Jasmin Rice and three types of sauces. The rice had a full, woody taste that I would have appreciated more if my tummy hadn’t been so preoccupied with the tantalizing jumbo shrimp brought for the seafood fondue.
For the meat courses, the fondue process was much different, resembling the Asian hot-pot tradition more than something the Swiss would do after a day of skiing on the Alps. The table was slightly crammed with two pots of broth, each with shiitake mushrooms and spring onions, a plate each of thin chicken and beef slices, and a fish-shaped plate with large sea scallops, salmon cuts, and shrimp. I began by using my two forks to leave a piece of beef and a jumbo shrimp in the broth to cook. After just about a minute, both were ready to eat.
The shrimp was unsettlingly chewy, but the beef was perfectly tender and flavorful, even without addition of any of the sauces. The sauces, served in a trio of small black cups, turned out to be spicy red chili, sweet and smoky barbecue, and roasted sesame and soy liaison. The chili was tasteless, with too much mayonnaise, while the barbecue was far from spectacular, reminding me of a bottled sauce. The soy liaison, however, had a pleasantly sweet but salty taste which complemented all of the meats.
Like the cheese, the meat fondues involved much searching of dropped items in the broth. My fondness of the meat fondues was more mixed, however, than my reaction to the cheese. The salmon and chicken were also too softly textured for my liking. The enormous scallops made up for all of it though, with their fresh taste and ideal amount of chewiness. However, I must admit that the best part of the meat courses was being able to say, “get me a beef” without sounding like a redneck.
I was beginning to fall into a food-induced state of drowsiness when the waiter brought the final two courses of chocolate dessert fondues. Both fondues, “Toblerone” and “Malibu,” were served with plates of banana, pineapple, biscotti, and strawberry slices, along with fluffy marshmallows.
On the first bite of a strawberry covered with the “Toblerone” chocolate, I quickly woke up. The dark chocolate was smooth, with a slightly bitter taste that kept it from becoming too intensely sweet. Dipped in the “Toblerone,” the marshmallows were mouth-wateringly reminiscent of making smores around a bonfire on the Olympic Peninsula beaches in Washington state.
The “Malibu” was a velvety, almost translucent blend of white chocolate, rum, and coconut which went best with the already sweet bananas. Both chocolate fondues were so infatuation-incurring that my photographer decided to drink what was left in the pots after the fruits had all been savored over. It was possibly the first time I’ve seen anyone gulp down molten chocolate. Aside from the pineapple slices, which were so acidic they couldn’t even be saved by the to-die-for chocolate, everything else was better than a Chocolate Orgasm.
Although I had constant troubles with losing my food in the fondue pot, now that I’ve experienced fondue at CafÉ Suisse I definitely know what I’d dream about if I were shipwrecked on an island.