Do You Fondue? Where in Westchester to Cozy Up to a Pot of Boozy Cheese
Plus proper fondue etiquette and Recologie's scrumptious vegan, gluten-free baked goods.
Finding Fondue and Raclette in a Cheez Whiz World
What does "fondue" conjure up for you? An episode of That 70s Show? Après-ski parties, romance, possible double dipping? It may be harder to find, but it's still around, a classic unjustly subject to the whims of fashion. Rarer still, its molten cousin raclette. But even in the melted cheese wasteland that is Westchester, you can indulge if you know where to look. And let's put the double dipping fears to rest: you use the long fork only to transport the dipped object to your plate, then do the actual eating with your regular fork.
Wait—don’t blow on your food! Fondue etiquette: what to know before you go
Wednesday is Melted Cheese Night at Encore Bistro Francais, which is opening a second location in Rye soon. The fondue ($21) comes with a large mesclun salad, and the raclette ($25) brings a crock pot of potatoes with melted Raclette cheese, served with cold cuts, cornichons, and pickled onions. (They used to have tartiflette; here’s hoping they bring it back.) I got there early on a cold night and was the only person there—what, no one wants to try a second fondue with me today?—but French speakers kept stopping by, picking up orders.
The buildup began: the burner arrived and was lit, and the fork placed before me, along with a basket of diced baguette. Then, the arrival of the pot of cheese! which presently began to bubble. It had that elusive correct balance of booze and cheese, the white wine cutting through the nutmeg-sprinkled mixture of Emmentaler and Swiss, then yielding to a sweeter undertone. If you make it to the bottom, wait for the last bit to crisp up (“la religieuse”)—that’s one of the best parts.
Eh bien, what of the raclette? The crock-pot allows the cheese to become crusty on top and on the sides—heaven—amid chunks of skin-on potato, with saucisson, prosciutto, and ham on the side. I hereby declare it your go-to winter comfort food.
DIY: Fondue’s popularity seems to exceed its restaurant presence. Start with a recipe, buy one of the Emmi mixes on display at the new Balducci’s, or give your host a cookbook. Get a fondue set at Williams-Sonoma, Beer Necessities, or on Etsy—or dig your parents’ out of the basement.
Brasserie Swiss, Westchester’s only Swiss restaurant, has been around for 35 years, and its cozy, kitschy digs are decked to the max for Christmas. We were charmed by a welcoming bowl of nuts in the shell and tangerines at the bar. That said, the fondue for two is $42 at lunch, $48 at dinner. It’s delicious but perhaps a touch too boozy, employing kirsch and white wine, Emmentaler, Gruyère, garlic, and spices. It comes with a tasty salad, the crusty bread is nicely toasted, and the fondue is thick enough to get plenty in one swipe…but making it more likely that you’ll lose your bread in the drink (and you know what that means—see below). The raclette ($15) is yummy, sprinkled with paprika. Just don’t go here expecting it to open like clockwork: arriving at noon led to a scenic drive down to the river and back before they let us in at 12:30. But pots of fondue are few and far between—and it’s freaking cold up there in Ossining.
Fondue tradition: If your bread falls into the cheese, you have to buy a round of drinks, have a shot of kirsch, or kiss the person next to you…or everyone at the table, depending on which tradition you follow. Hey, it’s your fondue party—take your pick.
The Melting Pot, a large chain, has stretched fondue into a broader, kid friendly, party-ready—not to mention inexpensive—dining experience. From a prominent entrance on Mamaroneck Avenue, you descend to basement level to enter this low-lit melting enclave full of semi-private nooks, almost melting into it yourself. Tables are outfitted with induction burners, and cheese fondue is prepared tableside by your server. Why stop at traditional Swiss when you can also have cheddar and beer (quite mild), jalapeño, spinach artichoke, and Fontina and Butterkäse? To dip, you get apples, veggies, and three kinds of bread. A four-course option includes cheese fondue, salad, an entrée you cook in simmering broth, and one of eight chocolate fondues, which come with fruit, cheesecake, Rice Krispies treats, marshmallows, pound cake, and brownies. Alone? No problem: fondue for one (enough for me and a child at $8.50). Kids’ menu? Gluten free? Gotcha. And the gateway special: $5 cheese fondue at 5 daily. This doesn’t have the authenticity of the French experience, but it’s hard not to appreciate the options.
What to drink: The traditional fondue beverage pairings are white wine, hot tea, and kirsch.
Oh, you were looking for chocolate fondue? We’ll get to that another time. Just note that Sonora has it on the menu as a Spanish dessert, and Chocolations will prepare a bread bowl fondue with a few days’ notice.
“Fondue” as a verb. That is all. It does derive from the French verb for “melt.” Happy fondueing!
Caribbean Christmas Eve at Alvin & Friends
There are many classic Christmas Eve menus out there, but for something a bit different, how about a Caribbean Christmas Eve at Alvin & Friends? From the press release: "Alvin & Friends invites guests to enjoy a Caribbean Christmas, with live steel drum music and a $59.95 prix-fixe menu studded with island favorites. Owner Alvin Clayton was raised in Trinidad and Chef Denzil Richards hails from Jamaica, so the evening will feature authentic dishes they remember from their childhoods. Clayton will be serving up Caribbean cocktails like sorrel, Alvin’s Famous Rum Punch, and house-brewed ginger beer, and the evening’s entrées will include some traditional Caribbean dishes like stewed goat as well as more familiar fare like “Westchester’s Best Fried Chicken." Count me in. Reserve a seat now as reservations are filling up fast.
Balducci’s Is Back
The new Balducci’s looks suspiciously like the old Balducci’s, and that’s a good thing—every care was taken to preserve the landmark building. But they’ve made all sorts of upgrades in the renovation, including new hot food and meze bars, an especially awesome olive bar, a larger cheese section (currently peeling off a 100-pound Long Clawson Stilton), way more organics, expanded seafood, meat, and floral departments, and charcuterie I used to go to Murray’s Cheese to find. Prepared foods continue to be overseen by Chef Sterling Smith (formerly of Sterling Inn and Neméa Greek Taverna), who at their opening was sampling his rosemary-encrusted prime rib. Catering menus are at the ready: New Year’s, Game Day, a three-page caviar menu—and the shelves are full of interesting specialty products, such as Tea-rrific tea-infused ice cream from Norwalk, even fresh-to-the-touch Walter’s macadamia nougat from South Africa, should you so desire. There are a few tables, but you could practically eat off the beautifully tiled floor. Welcome to Scarsdale, my friends, and give thanks for your bounty.
Vegan, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies at Vistro Café
Eating vegan often requires playing Where's Waldo with a menu, scrambling to pinpoint a few options and sometimes settling for mock deliciousness. But the vegan chocolate chip cookies at Vistro Café? Just try considering them anything less than scrumptious. Almost all baked goods here are vegan and gluten free, such as the incredibly moist apple cinnamon cake, and gingerbread cupcakes with soy cream cheese frosting and candied ginger. Chef Amy Bach sticks to sustainably sourced ingredients such as garbanzo and fava bean flour, agave, and coconut palm sugar. This new vegan/vegetarian cafe is inside the new and larger digs of Recologie, which sells eco-friendly clothes, jewelry, and artwork, the eye candy now spilling over into a Zen-like dining space. Making do with an off-site kitchen until theirs is ready, they offer a small menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads and plan to include beer and wine. But already they're rocking the space with events such as Celtic music and belly dancing nights with three-course vegan dinners.