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Dining Q & A

[whitespace] fondue It's the Cheese: Matterhorn is the unchallenged king of fondue.

David Fortin

Answers to Readers' Eating Questions

By Paul Adams

Q: Is there a place in the city where one can get good fondue? I'm dying of unfulfilled cheese lust. --H.P.

A: Yes. There are actually two establishments I am aware of in San Francisco with fondue on the menu. Matterhorn is at 2323 Van Ness and is the unchallenged king of fondue. It has meat cookable in a pot of broth or oil, nine varieties of cheese fondue and, of course, chocolate fondue. The setting, once you're through the poster-lined bathroomesque entryway, is 100 percent chalet realism (it's rumored that the restaurant was actually brought over from Switzerland and reassembled here). In other words, it's cozy, with polished wood furnishings, marching bands on the PA and cheerful aproned waitresses. The cheese options are subtle variations on the dip-bread-in-cheese concept: whiskey, herbs and tomatoes are added, and the cheese blend is varied. The classic "Valaisanne" is delightfully smooth, whereas the Scottish one is tart with cheddar and liquor.

Be warned: an order for two means that you'll each be eating about half a pound of cheese and an entire baguette. There are three meat choices. Each one involves the cooking of beef at the end of long forks, then dipping it in the sauce. Fish, chicken, pork and shrimp are also available for variety's sake.

And so at last we arrive at the desserts, which include strawberries, peaches, melon, kiwi, apricot, banana and a huge pot of delicious melted dark chocolate. You know what to do, if you can still move your limbs.

I mentioned two places; the second is the Bubble Lounge, but I wouldn't recommend its fondue except to a masochist. Perhaps my party wasn't dressed Marina-like enough, but after we finally collared a waitperson and gave her time to recover from the shock of hearing that we wanted the fondue, and after two other waiters were conferred with to confirm that there actually was such a thing as fondue at the Bubble Lounge, we were eventually graced with a tiny bowl containing something like day-old instant chocolate pudding. Cold. There seemed little point in proceeding, but I mentioned to the waiter that we were expecting a hot dessert, that being the nature of fondue. The dish was whisked away. While we waited, we discovered that the mushy strawberries were well past their prime. The pudding came back steaming and rubbery, most likely from the microwave. After a few adventurous dips confirming the chalkiness of the dessert, we emptied our drinks and left. Note: The Bubble Lounge is fine for certain things: darkness, champagne and young professionals.

Q: What exactly is the difference between crème fraîche, crème anglaise, crème brûlée, crème caramel and clotted cream? --H.H.

A: Mmm, another dairy question. Crème fraîche, which we're seeing a lot of these days, is a slightly sour thick cream, often seen in restaurants as a ritzy substitute for sour cream (in soups, on baked potatoes). You can make it by adding a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk to a pint of heavy cream, let it sit out overnight and then stir. Crème anglaise is a classic French dessert sauce, custardlike and thin. Crème brûlée is a smooth custard with a caramelized-sugar top, served cold. It could be estimated that more than 180 million tons of crème brûlée are consumed in San Francisco in a single year. Crème caramel, a.k.a flan, is yet another chilled custard. This one, though, is coated with caramel by baking (or occasionally steaming) in a caramel-lined ramekin. (Caramel, by the way, is just sugar cooked until it browns.) Clotted cream, that English delicacy, is what you get when you heat unpasteurized milk. The cream rises to the top and is eaten with scones.

Q: What's the story with Epicenter? I heard all this hype about it and then when I finally get around to going there, it's not there? --K.O.

A: Ah, Epicenter. That upscale down-home-for-downtowners child of Lance Dean Velasquez, haunted by the ghost of Willow Street Pizza, appeared--and departed--in July. Rumors that a lawsuit by the punk collective of the same name drove the restaurant out of business are unfounded. It's just not a great spot for a restaurant: set back and competing hotly with TGI Friday's and Chevy's. Those of us who were able to sample Epicenter's fried chicken during its brief lifetime mourn its demise. Watch this column for hints of a reincarnation.

Send your eating questions to [email protected].

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From the September 21-October 4, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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