What is it that makes fondue so inherently romantic? Perhaps it’s that fondue is meant to share between two. Perhaps it’s the slow, methodical process, spearing, and dipping, and swirling, and eating, draws out the meal, inviting conversation and laughter. Perhaps it’s the decadence of cheese and chocolate, or the simple suggestion of anything French, or the wine that should accompany such a bounty of cheese. (And Freud probably has an answer, involving long sticks and warm vessels, that we should ignore.)
But whatever the reason, fondue is the food of romance, and Valentine’s Day weekend is the perfect time to order a pot of your own at any of these prime New York spots.
This low-lit Carroll Gardens drinking den revolves around pre-prohibition cocktails and first-class fromage. The Jakewalk sources its impressive cheese collection from Stinky Bklyn just across the street, with more than thirty cheeses helpfully classified under headings like “Soft, Bloomy & Creamy” and “Firm, Old & Bold.”
As might be expected, these masters of cheese serve a formidable fondue. The starring cheese rotates—sometimes mild, sometimes blue—and appears in a bubbling cauldron. The Pleasant Ridge Reserve cow’s milk fondue pictured here was creamy and tangy, nicely cut with wine, and served with crusty bread, mild salami, and crisp green apple alongside. At $16, it’s a fair amount of food for two. And with dozens of reds and whites by the glass (and many more by the bottle), there’s a perfect wine to pair with whatever cheese appears before you.
The Bourgeois Pig
This East Village bar oozes decadence—plush throne-like chairs, chaise lounges, and a champagne-heavy drinks menu—so their fondues fit right in. The savories range from traditional to bizarre: Expected fondues include Gruyère with Kirsch, Raclette with nutmeg, and cheddar with port, while a four-cheese Italian concoction and blue cheese with honey also make the list. Each one is served with bread bits, rosemary potatoes, dippable fruit, and an antipasti-like spread of eggplant, red peppers, olives, and artichokes. The cheese didn’t reach the same violent bubbling stage as The Jakewalk’s, though a small burner kept it warm for much longer.
If a pot of Gruyère doesn’t fill you up—or if sweets are more your style—the Pig has ten dessert fondues to choose between, from milk chocolate with Grand Marnier to dark chocolate spiced with cayenne pepper. Sweets range from $20 to $28; savories from $24 to $26.
Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro
Terrance Brennan's combination fromagerie-winebar-bistro led fondue's New York comeback when it opened eight years ago. Because Artisanal's cheese selection, 250 strong (pun intended) at any given moment, is so good, the fondues here can't help but follow suit. Brennan knows full well how sexy sharing a fondue pot can be, so he has wisely declared February fondue month. That means for $24 two people can share the fondue of the day, one extra bather (baigneuses) from a list that includes apples, kielbasa, crudites, and fingerling potatoes, and two glasses of wine.
And For Dessert…
Chocoholics can get their fix early at the Chocolate Room in Brooklyn. While both locations are serving three-course chocolate tastings during Valentine's evening, fondues are available à la carte before 7:30 p.m. Their rich Belgian chocolate fondue is served with fresh fruit, pound cake, and homemade marshmallows for just $14 (or $23, with two glasses of moscato d'asti).
The Chocolate Room Park Slope 86 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map) 718-783-2900