Fondue or Fon-don’t: Does Melted Cheese Melt Hearts?

Fondue or Fondont Fondue or Fon dont: Does Melted Cheese Melt Hearts?We recently announced the winners of the OpenTable Diners’ Choice award for the Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants. Of the 50, a whopping 12 were Melting Pot restaurants, where fondue anchors the menus. Two other winners, La Fondue and Simply Fondue, are also, as you might have guessed by their names, fondue-friendly eateries. The Chicago Tribune‘s food blog, The Stew, picked up on our list’s fromage factor and ran with it, while the clever folks over at Eater didn’t want to give a shout out to these restaurants when they generously covered our list, saying, “[F]ondue hasn’t been considered romantic since Three’s Company went off the air.” The fact remains, however, that many diners find fondue to be the perfect mood food for a romantic evening.

What exactly is it that makes love bloom over melted cheese and other cook-it-yourself delights? We weren’t quite sure, so we reached out to our network of diners over Facebook and Twitter. Bulbul Gupta says, “Interactive food is always a great date dinner idea, interactive anything is very romantic — you learn to share early on and can easily feed each other with a one-foot distance without it getting overly mushy…perfect!” Diner Teresa Miller concurs, “The Melting Pot in Larkspur is VERY romantic. The location is in an old brick kiln with lots of low lighting. Cheese is comfort food, hence the reason why romance blooms when bellies are satisfied!” Jennifer Kaplan, also a fondue fan, says, “My husband and I do find it romantic. The lighting is low and the tables are reasonably secluded. We enjoy lingering over our dinner and find the food to be very good.” Ryan Mathus tweets, “I find fondue/Melting Pot cool just because it’s not your traditional meal and more hands on. It’s all about us.” Fellow tweep Jen Fairchild notes, rather poetically (or erotically?), “Fondue is steamy and hot and thick and creamy and good…just like love!”

Perhaps the best and not-at-all cheesy cheese story we heard comes from OpenTable diner Cara Couture of Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes, “My husband and I go to The Melting Pot any time we have reason to celebrate — graduation, anniversary, new job, a Friday night — but our favorite reason was to celebrate our engagement. In between the limo ride and the chartered plane trip around the city of Columbus, Ohio, my then-fiancé made dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, The Melting Pot, where a bouquet of roses was at our regular table with a congratulations card signed by the restaurant staff. To this day, that remains the most romantic night of my life.” Sigh. My husband’s marriage proposal is looking more and more lame the more stories I hear like this one (a chartered plane?). But, I digress.

To find out if the people from The Melting Pot had any insights as to why their dining experience is so aphrodisiacal, we reached out to Chad Hornik, who owns several Melting Pot locations, including those in Richmond and Virginia Beach,  which were included on our Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants winners for 2010. Hornik says of his restaurants’ romantic appeal, “Dining with fondue creates an aura of romance. It’s a participation meal — you’re cooking, helping, talking. Even if the conversation gets awkward, diners can talk about the food.” Also, “The lighting is dim, and each table is designed to have its own intimate atmosphere. We even have curtains that block off some of our tables, and sometimes we have to knock before we enter!” The Melting Pot, though, is more than just cheese. Hornik adds, “The cheese is just the appetizer. It’s a relaxed four-course dining experience, and the desserts…well, dipping strawberries into chocolate is pretty romantic.”

Chad, you had me (and, most certainly, my chocoholic husband) at strawberries and chocolate. Perhaps a a trip to The Melting Pot will prompt a second proposal. And, yes, Curt, that means a second ring.

Valentine’s Day Limo Twitter Giveaway: Follow @OpenTable for a Chance to Win

OpenTable Valentines Day Twitter Limo Giveaway1 Valentines Day Limo Twitter Giveaway: Follow @OpenTable for a Chance to Win Do you want a limo to whisk you and your date to and from dinner on Valentine’s Day? All it takes is a tweet! Beginning Monday, February 8, 2010, at 9:00AM EST, OpenTable is taking to Twitter to give away five limousines, courtesy of, to five lucky diners, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

To enter to win, follow @OpenTable on Twitter and watch out for our giveaway tweet of the day. Tweet back your reply and stay tuned. One limousine will be awarded to one entrant, chosen at random, for five straight days. Winners will be announced the following day on Twitter.

Read the official rules and regulations below, and get ready to ride in style on the most romantic day of the year.

follow bird us c Valentines Day Limo Twitter Giveaway: Follow @OpenTable for a Chance to Win

OpenTable 2010 Valentine’s Day Twitter Giveaway

1. Introduction: OpenTable, Inc. is offering the 2010 Valentine’s Day Twitter Giveaway (“Giveaway”).  NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  A PURCHASE DOES NOT IMPROVE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING.  VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.

2. Eligibility: The Giveaway is open to U.S. residents twenty-one (21) years of age or older at the time of entry.  Employees of OpenTable, Inc., and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of such persons, are not eligible to enter the Giveaway.  Entrants must have a Twitter account and follow @OpenTable on Twitter.

3. Giveaway Period: The Giveaway begins at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (“PST”) on Monday, February 8, 2010, and ends at 11:59 p.m. PST on Friday, February 12, 2010, and consists of five (5) separate Prize Periods; one (1) Prize Period per day.

4.  How to Enter: Once per day during the Giveaway, a Valentine’s Day related question will be posted on the OpenTable blog and tweeted by OpenTable.  To enter the Giveaway, visit and follow @OpenTable for information on rules and to receive the Valentine’s Day related questions.  Entrants will be required to respond to each question via a tweet.  Limit one (1) submission per person per Prize Period.  Non-winning entries will not be rolled over into subsequent Prize Periods; you must enter each drawing separately.

5. Drawing: At the close of each Prize Period one (1) winner will be randomly selected from among all eligible entries received. OpenTable’s decision is final and binding in all matters relating to the Giveaway.  Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received per Prize Period.  Potential winners will be notified by a direct message to the Twitter account which submitted the entry, and will request your name, phone number and email.  If there is a dispute as to who is the potential winner, OpenTable will consider the potential winner to be the authorized account holder of the Twitter handle used to enter the Giveaway.  If a potential winner is unreachable, OpenTable may award the Prize to an alternate entrant.

6. Prize: Five (5) winners will each receive a four hundred dollar ($400) credit from  The credit must be used within one year of issue, is valid only where provides service and may be subject to certain terms and conditions.  OpenTable will not be responsible for any loss, liability or damage arising out of the winner’s acceptance or use of the prize.  Prizes are not transferable.  No cash or substitutions of prizes may be made, except by OpenTable in the event that the prize cannot be awarded for any reason, in which case, OpenTable will provide a prize of equal or greater value.  All taxes, fees and surcharges on prizes are the sole responsibility of winner.  The winners will be required to execute an affidavit of eligibility and a media release from the date of notification or an alternate winner may be selected.

7.  Conditions: OpenTable is not responsible for lost, late, or unintelligible entries, lost connections, miscommunications, failed transmissions, other technical difficulties or failures. OpenTable reserves the right to terminate or modify this Giveaway at any time in the event of any intervention with the Giveaway beyond the control of OpenTable. In such event, OpenTable reserves the right to select winners from eligible entries received as of the termination date. Entrants agree to indemnify OpenTable and its affiliated and subsidiary companies from and against any and all claims and liabilities arising out of or in connection with this Giveaway.  By entering this Giveaway you agree to the use of your name and likeness and entry for promotional purposes, without payment or compensation to you (except where prohibited by law).

8. Governing Law: This Giveaway shall be governed by and interpreted under the laws of the State of California, U.S.A. without regard to its conflicts of laws provisions. The Federal and State courts located in the county of San Francisco, California will be the exclusive venue for any disputes under this Giveaway, and all entrants hereby consent to the personal jurisdiction of those courts for such purposes.

9.  Winners List: To obtain a list of winners send a self-addressed, stamped envelope by March 1, 2010, to:  OpenTable, Inc., Attn:  Marketing Department-Valentine’s Day Giveaway, 799 Market Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103.

10.  Sponsor: The sponsor of this Sweepstake is OpenTable, Inc., 799 Market Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103. Continue reading…

Create a Great Valentine’s Day: Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

Valentines Tips From Michael Fazio1 Create a Great Valentines Day: Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

On Valentine’s Day, more than most days, you’ve got to get romance right. And that starts with planning a seamless night. Michael Fazio, whose book Concierge Confidential will soon be published by St. Martin’s Press, says, “Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest restaurant nights of the year. The people who fare the best are the ones who know how to navigate the terrain like a pro and how to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by the amateurs.”

If you don’t want to look like an amateur on this special night, use these exclusive tips from guest-blogger Fazio, cofounder of Abigail Michaels Concierge, providers of a vast repertoire of concierge services to nearly 40,000 New Yorkers.

1. Select the right spot.

A great date for your Valentine’s Day starts with selecting the perfect restaurant. To find the perfect place for you and your date, answer these same questions I ask my clients when they seek my help in selecting a restaurant for them:

* Given the many definitions of what could be considered romantic, what do you visualize as the perfect setting for your date?

For some, the perfect restaurant is overflowing with luxury and opulence. For others, the perfect restaurant is a tiny little spot with checkered tablecloths and wicker-covered wine bottle candleholders. And for others, it might be the newest, hippest, and hardest to get reservation.

* How much time do you want to spend dining?

On Valentine’s Day, many restaurants replace their regular menus with special multi-course, prix-fixe menus. On OpenTable, you can find this by looking under the “Valentine’s Day/Romantic Dinners” tab on your city’s start page or by looking under “Deals and Offers” on a restaurant’s profile page. If you’re a foodie who favors the prix-fixe menu, consider an earlier reservation as a multi-course, prix-fixe meal tends to take time.

* What’s your budget?

The best way to ruin a nice evening out is to experience sticker shock. Review the menu on OpenTable, which you can view on a restaurant’s profile page. The “$$$$” measurement is always a reliable base, but it doesn’t hurt to consult the menu and wine list so you know before you go.

* Are you open to trying something different?

Take advantage of Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to be daring and have a new culinary experience. You don’t have to stretch your palate to the extreme, but exploring a new cuisine together can be quite fun. I still have amazing memories from my night dining on a floor pillow, under a tent in a Moroccan restaurant in the heart of NYC.

2. Get a little extra attention.

Make use of OpenTable’s “Special Requests to the Maitre D’” section when booking your reservation for a little extra love from your hosts for the evening. Yes, the restaurants read the comments, and I love to use this space to send compliments and express how much my clients are looking forward to dining at their restaurant. Set yourself apart by establishing a profile as being a fan. No one wants to disappoint a fan!

3. Make it special with flowers.

You can order flowers to be sent to your table right on OpenTable when you book your reservation. Everyone may stare as your bouquet arrives, but they’ll be wowed by the special gesture you made for your date. If flowers aren’t in your budget, stop by the restaurant earlier in the day with a card and ask the staff if they can insert it into your date’s menu when you arrive.

4. Couldn’t get a reservation? Try, try again!

My newest “can’t live without it” tool is the OpenTable Mobile App. The reason is simple. Restaurants’ reservation inventory shifts on a regular basis due to changes and cancellations. Ironically, the premium reservation times are often the ones to change. With an OpenTable Mobile App, you can check and re-check availability several times a day, wherever you are. It’s also a great tool for last minute reservations.  In my recent experience using this mobile app, I was originally unable to find availability at one of the city’s new hot spots. Deciding to “wing it” about 30 minutes before I wanted to dine, I snagged a prime reservation that wasn’t available the many times I tried previously.

5. Plan a pre- or après-dinner activity.

Before or after dinner, visit a museum or take a walk on a scenic street. Or, book a private car or limo to pick you up at the restaurant and take a drive down memory lane past your first home or the place that you first met.

Whatever your plans involve, just remember that the most important part of the date is spending time together. Have a sense of humor about it, and don’t get intimidated by the pressure of a special night like Valentine’s Day. Remember, if it all goes wrong, the best way to spin it into a positive is to laugh, knowing you’ll have a memory to last a lifetime.

Finally, keep in mind that Valentine’s Day dining can be a nice brunch, lunch, or even just a dessert date. Whether you start your celebration on Friday the 12th or Sunday the 14th, savor each flavor and enjoy the experience!

Visit Abigail Michaels to learn more about Michael Fazio and Abigail Michaels Concierge’s services.

Well-Reviewed: Baker and Banker; Beacon; Birch and Barley, and Other Restaurants That Don’t Start with a ‘B’

Recent restaurant reviews from the news…

  • Beacon in Los Angeles gets high marks for its fusion burgers from Damon Gambuto at A Hamburger Today. [Serious Eats]
  • Ezekiel J. Emanuel hates all of the 555 beers served at Washington, D.C.’s Birch and Barley (because he hates all beer), but he loves the food. [The Atlantic]
  • Victoria Pesce Elliott has an uplifting dining experience at South Beach’s Solea. [Miami Herald]

Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in Manhattan

Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in Manhattan Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in ManhattanWylie Dufresne has been playing with his food à la Dr. Frankenstein for years, and while not all restaurants embrace his methods, many elements of his brand of molecular gastronomy have seeped into mainstream dining in the Big Apple. The New York Post reports on Dufresne, chef-owner of wd-50, Dave Arnold, resident mad scientist at the French Culinary Institute and its restaurant L’Ecole (who regularly  blogs about his “experiments” at the FCI), Michael Laiskonis, pastry chef at Le Bernardin, and George Mendes, chef-owner at Aldea, on their use of “meat glue” and other ingredients more likely found in a laboratory than your kitchen cupboard.

Are you a fan of molecular gastronomy’s transformative powers? Or do you prefer more traditional ingredients and techniques?

More Dining Trends for 2010: Bacon, Again?

Dining Trends for 2010 Again More Dining Trends for 2010: Bacon, Again?The Chicago Tribune checks in with some so-called dining trendspotters (Bacon is great, but to call it a trend for the year ahead is like saying 2010 is *finally* going to be Roger Federer’s breakout year.) to uncover the method to their madness, and then weighs in with 10 trends they find to be slightly less obvious — and they are. If you’re a true foodie, though, even the Tribune‘s list will be more “been there, done that” than enlightening.

What do you think are the truly new trends we’ll see emerge in the year ahead? Serve up your suggestions here or over on Facebook.

Chef Watch: Michael Voltaggio Cooks and Tells; New York Post Has a Beef with Alain Ducasse; Norman Van Aken Opens His Recipe Book; The World’s Most Influential Chef; Charlie Trotter’s New Hire, and More

Chefs making food and headlines…

•    Michael Voltaggaio, winner of season 6 of “Top Chef” shows football fans how to have a very molecular gastronomic Super Bowl party. Does that mean deconstructed nachos? [Los Angeles Times]

•    Speaking of Chef Voltaggio, who is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham, he answers questions about his post-TC life. [Orange County Register]

•    Jose Garces, whose Philadelphia restaurant empire includes Amada, Chifa, Distrito, and Tinto, reveals what’s inspiring him lately. [The Daily Beast]

•    Charlie Trotter hires visually impaired chef Laura Martinez to join his kitchen at Charlie Trotter’s. [Grub Street Chicago]

•    If Chicago’s Graham Elliot Bowles’s food at Graham Elliot were an album, it would be Feed the Animals by Girl Talk. At least this week, anyway. [Time Out Chicago]

•    Meet the U.K’s own Fergus Henderson of St. John restaurant in London. He’s also the world’s most influential chef. No, really. [Men's Health]

•    Chef Norman Van Aken shares some of his signature recipes from Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, but it’s probably just easier to go ahead and let him make them for us at his eponymous restaurant. [The Daily Beast]

•    Thomas Keller (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon – Beverly Hills, The French Laundry, Per Se) loses his right-hand man. As long as it’s not his right hand. [San Francisco Chronicle]

•    Restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post has a bone to pick with Alain Ducasse (Adour Alain Ducasse at The St. Regis New York, Benoit New York) over his recent comments about the New York restaurant scene. Call me a coward, but it’s probably not all that wise to start a beef with anyone who wields knives for a living. [New York Post]

Choucroute Takes Chicago: Chi-Town to Become Chou-Town?

Choucroute Takes Chicago1 Choucroute Takes Chicago: Chi Town to Become Chou Town?It’s no secret that Chicago eaters love salted meat products (see Swerski, Bill), so it may not come as any surprise that choucroute garni, an Alsatian dish of seasoned sauerkraut typically topped with sausage, ham, and potatoes, is taking hold of the town. Time Out Chicago reports seeing choucroute dishes on the menus at Brasserie Jo (where it’s been a staple for years), and, more recently, Blackbird and Kith and Kin. It’s not a dish for the faint of heart (or the clogged of arteries), but if you’re going to dig in, winter is the time. I’ve only had this in France, where a friend and I shared what turned out to be a mountainous plate we now call the “meat-lover’s special.” It was porky. It was salty. It was delicious — and we didn’t come close to finishing it.

50 Most Romantic Restaurants: Diners’ Choice Awards 2010

Top 50 Romantic Restaurants in US 2010.jgp 50 Most Romantic Restaurants: Diners Choice Awards 2010Just in time for Valentine’s Day, OpenTable is proud to announce the winners of our 2010 Diners’ Choice Awards for the Most Romantic Restaurants in America. Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list can help diners find a restaurant that can make any evening great, whether it’s your first date or your 50th anniversary.

The winners include restaurants with terrific views, such as The Eagle’s Nest in Indianapolis, foodie faves, like Canlis in Seattle, and classics that have hosted hundreds of marriage proposals, such as Manhattan’s One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

From fun fondue restaurants to those offering breathtaking vistas or just a chance to flirt over a plate of delicious food, these restaurants can help make any evening more romantic. Reserve for romance today!

Did your favorite romantic restaurant make our list? Let us know here or join the conversation on Facebook. And, speaking of romance, don’t forget to book your Valentine’s Day reservations now.

Not-so-new Food Trends for 2010

The Daily Beast gathered up predictions for the biggest food trends of 2010. James Norton quickly pointed out on Chow that many of these trends are leftovers — not just from 2009, but way back when.

I’m not sure he’s wrong about this assertion, but, in defense of The Daily Beast, there may not be anything that is, in fact, new to those of us who are really dialed into what’s happening in the food world.

Can you remember the last time a trend came along that was truly fresh news to your ears and taste buds?