Being Asian, I'm no stranger to fondues, or - as we call them - hot pots. But Asian hot pots consist mainly of throwing random ingredients into a boiling pot of seasoned broth and cooking them until they are well done, and then eating them. There is no finesse to the process whatsoever. So when a coupon for Swiss fondue rolled around on groupon, I had to check out what this fancy cheese-based fondue experience was all about.
Fair warning, the restaurant was very dark, so the pictures are going to be either very blurry, or very bright from the flash. The food looks more appetizing in person, trust me.
Accessibility - Grade: A
Alpenhouse is located on St-Marc Street, right south of Ste-Catherine's. It's around a five minute walk from Guy-Concordia metro, St-Mathieu exit. The restaurant has a quaint aged look to it, and isn't ostentatious, so it might be easily missed.
Service - Grade: B
When we first enter the restaurant, the concierge greeted us warmly and asked us if it was our first time visiting. He joked with us and checked our coats (which is, apparently, obligatory in this restaurant), and then showed us to our seats. He was the only exceptional part of the service of that evening. The rest of the waitstaff weren't any more friendly than your average waiter.
There's also the issue of charging us tip, which I will discus further in the price section.
Ambiance - Grade: A-
This restaurant has a very unique ambiance. It has a old, rustic European feel to it, and has very dim lighting. Which, I guess, makes it perfect for romantic dinners.
Food - Grade: B-
The coupon we bought was for two people, and included one swiss fondue as an appetizer, and two 'Chinese' fondues, with a choice of beef or chicken, for $29.
We started off with the swiss fondue, which consisted of a massive pot of melted cheese and a giant basket of bread, as well as a platter of mixed vegetables. Having never had cheese fondue before, I really had no idea what to expect. So after drenching a piece of bread in gooey, cheesy goodness and taking a hefty bite, my eyes must have bugged out of their sockets.
It. Is. STRONG.
I'm not a cheese-intolerant, but nor am I a cheese-lover. I found the combination of cheese and wine a bit overpowering, especially since the cheese didn't have any lingering sweetness. Nope. It even had a bitter aftertaste. But people who love cheese and love wine - or better yet, cheese WITH wine - will probably love this fondue.
The bread obviously went well with the cheese, but the vegetables, not so much. The veggie platter contained some broccoli, cauliflower, portobello mushrooms and slicked carrots, all pre-cooked and salted. My friend and I just ended up eating the vegetables as they were, to cut the heaviness of the cheese.
The second course consisted of 'Chinese fondue'. It's obviously not the scorching hot pots that we're used to eating, but the basic idea is still there. The broth is pretty salty, and contains chopped onions and vegetables. We're given a choice of beef or chicken each, so we got one of each.
|Chicken and beef|
We're given a platter of about yay much chicken and beef (chicken in front, beef in back), which we have to cook in the pot. Unlike hot pot, the pots here are heated by a candle instead of stoves or burners, which means that the broth can't be brought to a boil, which subsequently means slower cooking times. My friend and I spent a good portion of our time staring idly at our sticks of beef and chicken and waiting for them to cook.
Price - $$$
Because we got a coupon, this meal came up to $30 (for the coupon) and $19 for the tax and tip. Which, by the way, they calculate for you. This peeved me a bit, I shouldn't be obligated to pay 15% if I didn't feel that the service was adequate. I understand that they're worried that people will tip on coupon value, but charging a customer for tip is a sign of bad faith in my books.
In any case, if it weren't for the coupons, this meal could have cost us $60+. ...Probably not.
Final Grade: B-
The restaurant has some things going for it, namely the ambiance combined with their particular style of cuisine. I can't say much about the quality of the swiss fondue, since I was too busy being overpowered by the cheesiness, but most of the people I know who have been seem to have enjoyed it. The Chinese fondues, on the other hand, weren't all that special. And going by their regular prices, I'd say that the food doesn't live up to the value. So I'd say go once for the ambiance and to experience Swiss fondue if you've never had it, and who knows? Maybe you'll enjoy it enough to return again. I, on the other hand, don't think I'll be returning there any time soon.
1279 Rue St-Marc, Montreal