Classy joint in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's actually a fondue restaurant, of which I had never heard before eating there last Friday with some friends. Here's the deal:

Reservations are required, and you will lose them if you're more than 10 minutes late. Seems snotty, and maybe it is, but the fact of the matter is that the food is really incredible and they probably could actually fill your late self's table in five.

The tabletops are heavy-duty ceramic tile. There are hotplates built into the centers. Little knobs that control the temperature of said hotplates are located just under the table on each side, and when the waiter goes to adjust them, he looks like he's grabbing the crotch of the person seated closest to the knobs. All that aside, though...

Appetizers are drool-inducing variants on the theme of cheese fondue. You choose your cheese from a lengthy list, and the waiters bring it to your table, along with oil and spices, and they cook it while you watch. It takes about a nanosecond. Then, you use skewers to pick up the breads, fruits, and vegetables that have appeared, and you dunk them in the cheese, (and then you make a lot of yummy noises.)

Lovely, unusual salads make up the next course. I don't even really like salads all that much, but the ones at the Melting Pot gave me goosebumps. Unusual greens, cheeses, and even fresh walnuts and pecans, with dressings I've never even heard of before. (Sugarplum Vinegarette; Gorgonzola and Bleu Cheese; Sun-dried Tomato, Parsley, and Garlic...!) Delicious.

The entrees are, essentially, your choice of raw meats, seafoods, and vegetables, as well as batters and sauces to dip them in. The cheese fondue pots are replaced with ones containing hot oil, and you literally cook your own food, two or three pieces at a time, right there at your table. There are dips for pre-cooking and dips for post-cooking. Tempura and sesame batters; sour cream, chive, and garlic dip; teriyaki dip; honey mustard; pesto sauce; dill sauce; melted garlic butter; and at least 10 more I can't recall.

Dessert is likely to bring you to tears, especially if you're a chocolate lover. The oil pots are replaced with chocolate ones. The dessert menu is essentially a list of various chocolate fondues...we chose the turtle variety. Good Lord, I'm having a pavlovian resonse just in remembering it! Milk and dark chocolates, caramel, and fresh pecans melted together into fondue sauce! There were strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, cheesecake(!!), apples, and pound cake to coat with as much or as little of the chocolate as you wanted. It was amazing.

It was also very expensive. (For my dog trainer's budget, at least.) The appetizer, entree, and dessert for myself and one of the other people was right around $65.00. (Mind you, there was filet mignon and lobster included on that plate of uncooked meats...) our drinks bill added more to that, so it was a pricey night out. But it was a lot of fun, in an unusual kind of restaurant, and eating there took most of the evening. Our reservations were for 8:45 and we didn't leave the place until a little after midnight.

So if you find yourself in Raleigh, N.C. and you have an extra hundred bucks waiting to be spent, go eat at the Melting Pot. You will be so very glad you did.