by Lisa

Last summer Ella’s grandparents took her to see a regional production of Annie and then out to dinner at a fondue restaurant.  She loved the show. (Annie was a very close runner-up for the Halloween costume even though, in the end, Hermione won out.) But the restaurant?  Well, we’ve heard about that restaurant at least once a week for the past 6 months. Before Fondue, she had never of the stuff.  After, it was nearly all she could talk about  (in terms of food).  We heard each course recited ad infinitum, with every detail of service, and in as much descriptive power as she could muster. Over, and over, and over.  “Can I tell you what we ate, Mom?” “Do you want to know what they have at the Fondue Restaurant?”  We humored her, but it’s not a cheap restaurant, so we didn’t rush back.

But  recently she had something to celebrate, so we did take her back.

In the hours leading up to the event, she was so excited she willingly put on a new dress, and knee high athletic socks, and cute denim flats. Without being asked, and long before the last minute. Her brother was another story.  Finn grudingly put on his grey jeans and a shirt with a collar. And then, when he figured out we were actually going to the Fondue Restaurant, the real fun started. He whined, he cried, he lay on the ground and refused to put on his shoes. He rolled around like a Weeble.  “Why, why, why?!” he moaned. “I don’t want to go the THAT restaurant…”  The tears fell.   He doesn’t tantrum, but he is really good at weeping.

So, we did what we always do when a child threatens to ruin our plans.

We told him we had no choice, that we expected good behavior, and we put him in the car.  I was nervous, of course.  One can never be too sure of one’s kids.

By the time we got to the restaurant, Finn was carsick and Ella was so happy she nearly skipped into the restaurant. The host led us upstairs to a comfortable booth, and there, resting against the melting pot, was a card for E. signed by all the servers. Super cheesy, yes, but very sweet and sort of perfect for an 8-year old girl’s celebration.  At that little surprise, Finn started to come around. They were offered a mini box of colored pencils and a booklet with tic tac toe grids, which also distracted him long enough not to complain.

And then, the server offered them Italian sodas, of which they eagerly partook, and things started to look up.

Ella ordered (she’d had the menu in her head for months, remember), and there was something lovely watching her confidently put in the order for all of us (except for the wine).

And then– the server arrived with a tray of ingredients and made the cheese fondue in the pot in the middle of the table.  Finn was riveted. For really, what kid doesn’t like to see things melt and simmer and bubble and transform right in front of him?  There was bread, and apples, and long dangerous looking forks, and lots of things to spear with them.

One bite, two bites, and soon Finn was happily eating away, too.

“Hey,” he said, “You know this is MUCH better than I thought it would be.” He nodded and smiled and kept dipping and eating. “This is really good. I didn’t KNOW this was like this. I LOVE this. Thanks, Ella!”

And so.

We simmered all kinds of meats and shrimp and potstickers and vegetables in broth, and Finn was as charmed as Ella was blissed out.

Then there was the chocolate fondue with cheesecake, rice krispie treats, pound cake, brownies, and strawberry dippers…(don’t even ask).

Really, I’ve had better fondue.  The restaurant is sort of expensive. But as my husband noted, this place has it dialed in. The manager came over to congratulate Ella.  It has just enough fancy to impress the family but it’s not too formal.  And there is not much more communal fun than a fondue pot. There’s something magical about melting cheese, and simmering broth, and sharing all the little parts of a meal in a very active, ongoing way.  The night was easily one of our most fun family dinners–and for Kory and I it wasn’t because the food was top  notch. The kids, of course, would disagree. They think fondue, at this place, is the best thing in the world, and I’m not going to disabuse them of that notion. I hope they grow up and remember this place as an occasion, as something new and different, as something we did together to celebrate.  If they love mediocre fondue, and choose this place for their celebrations,  I’ll give it to them every time.  It’s better than a happy meal. Or Macys. We all came together to celebrate Ella, but we celebrated just being together, too.

Also: There was a great big blue flame.  And really, what more is there to be said about why fondue is a fun family dinner?