Thursday, December 20, 2007

Melting Pot Mayhem

The Melting Pot has long been one of my favorite restaurants. I visited it frequently in Chicago, although they seemed to have an obsession with trying to seat me in the smoking area. Their non-smoking section was woefully inadequate and always had a long wait, so they tried to talk poor non-smoking suckers into sitting in the nicotine haze. Nope, I don't think so! But without fail, they would claim, "You made your reservation for smoking," even though both hubby and I had gotten into the habit of forcing them to repeat "Yes, this is for non-smoking" whenever we called to make it.

For any other restaurant, that annoyance would have caused me to cross them off my list. But the Melting Pot is like no other. It's a 1970s throwback of heavenly melted cheese and divine chocolate dip, sandwiched around a meal cooked at your table in your choice of broth or oil (make mine mojo broth, please). It's not exactly easy to find that someplace else, so the Melting Pot had me in its grip.

When we moved to Florida, I was pleased to discover one in Dr. Phillips, just a stone's throw away from Celebration. Better yet, Florida's smoking ban meant that I never had to argue to get a table where I could actually breathe.

The Melting Pot is good for an indulgent meal any time, but it's also a great place to celebration special occasions. Thus it happened that I went there tonight with two friends for a birthday bash. Not only was December 20th the birthday of one of my companions, but it was also the first day of "Get Lit," a holiday we started in 2006. Get Lit encompasses 12 1/2 days, which allows you enough time to get sober by New Years Day afternoon. One of its main components is the melding of Coke and Mentos at midnight on January 1st, but we also spend the intervening days celebrating the melding of human and alcohol.

The Melting Pot is an excellent place to do that, with yummy drinks like blackberry margaritas and my all time favorite, the Yin and Yang. That tasty little ice cream drink blends chocolate and vanilla into a smooth taste treat that goes down much too smooth. You're lit before you know it!

I put a couple Yin and Yangs under my belt as my friends downed the margaritas, and we worked our way through a multi-course meal of Mediterranian cheese, salads, chicken, seafood, and dark chocolate with raspberry for dessert. At some point, there was also the ritual present opening, although we spared the birthday girl a drunken rendition of "Happy Birthday."

At the end of our feast, two of us made a quick restroom visit before hitting the road to home. I was the last one to return to the table, so I stood at the edge as the others packed up to leave. Somehow the birthday girl managed to unite the tissue wrapping paper from her gifts with the candle on our table, and WHOOSH! The tissue went up in flames. It's utterly amazing to see just how fast that paper will burn.

Time slowed to a crawl as I watched the pyrotechnics erupt before my eyes. Amazingly, I remained calm and collected enough to say, "Uh, we'd better put some water on that." One of my friends was staring in awe, while the birthday girl flailed at it while inexplicably stating the obvious, " Hot!" Unfortunately, she then tried to smother it with another piece of tissue, which only made it flare up bigger and brighter than ever. The flames were shooting up and ash was swirling in the air.

At that point, I was tossing whatever water glasses I could find at it, as was my friend and a waiter who had happened along and noticed the disaster in the making. I don't think I've ever seen anyone's eyes get as big as his did when he saw the flames.

Thankfully no one around us was panicking. The family in the booth behind us seemed fascinated by the chaos and helpfully provided additional water glasses. Finally the flame were doused, and all I could think to myself was, "Oh, Lord, we almost burned down the Melting Pot."

Here is a photo of the aftermath (note the little pile of ashes and the ice and straws from the water we were tossing):

I wasn't quite sure what to do. Should we add some money to the tip for firefighting duties? (The poor waiter wasn't even the one who had served us.) Slink out in shame? Ask why they hadn't brought us extra marshmallows?

We opted to take our leave, and I wondered if I would ever be allowed to dark their door again. My husband and I visit The Melting Pot so often that they have our information in their reservation system. They know that we always get mojo broth and that we only want the green goddess, teriyaki, and curry dipping sauces. Now we probably have a new note in big red letters:

"NO candle on table!"

Out in the parking lot, the three of us burst into uncontrollable laughter. What a way to celebrate Get Lit...with a literal lighting! We still couldn't believe that we'd just set our table on fire. Granted, New Years Eve is supposed to be a pretty wild time, and we'll all be together again on the 31st, but somehow I just don't think we'll ever manage to top getting lit at The Melting Pot. But somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that next time I call for reservations, the response will be, "Sorry, I'm afraid we're fully booked for the rest of 2008."

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