Do you fondue?

The skinny on dipping.

COME VALENTINE'S DAY, food writers annually trot out tiresome romantic menus and classic aphrodisiacs, each ostensibly promising to ignite flames of passion. Yet their suggestions seem horribly flawed. Asparagus makes your urine stink and eating artichokes is too labor-intensive. Who honestly wants to suck face with someone who's just slurped down a raw oyster? ("C'mere and kiss me, you briny stud!") And phallic-looking morels? Oh, please—just use a 10-inch dildo for a table centerpiece and tell your date what's really on your mind. Seduction via the stomach requires imagination and elbow grease. Tearing a page out of a co-worker's discarded copy of Bon Appetit will not suffice. The illusion that any and all preparation was inspired by fondest affections must be maintained, yet relatively effortless dishes are best; nothing kills the mood faster than a kitchen fire. And no single food meets all these requirements better than that lovers' symphony of melted fat, carbohydrates, booze, and open flame: fondue. Stop laughing at the kitsch factor and recall the cozy connotations that accompany fondue for two. Pretend you've accepted a dinner invitation from your handsome ski instructor following an afternoon on the slopes: The air inside the chalet is redolent of warm wine and nutmeg. Mesmerized by the dancing blue flame, you gaze into each other's eyes and lazily twirl bread cubes through the melted Swiss. Next thing you know, you and Jean-Luc are balling till dawn on the bearskin rug. It's an episode straight out of The Playboy Advisor, circa 1970. Fondue parties even come with rules, like an adult party game. Tradition dictates that a woman who loses her bread in the cheese must kiss the nearest man. Gentlemen who do likewise are required to buy the next bottle of wine. One aficionado even suggests that anyone who dips unsuccessfully should do a shot of kirsch, the cherry brandy typically stirred into fondue. With so many cues to drop inhibitions, a spontaneous orgy is inevitable. A caveat: This discussion is concerned only with traditional Swiss cheese fondue. You cannot honestly expect to get laid by presenting your intended with a Chili-Cheddar Nacho Dunk (results may vary if you're looking to screw one of your Sunday football buddies). Likewise, meat fondues—where pieces of beef, chicken, or shrimp are flash-cooked in hot fat—are not recommended, unless you want to reenact the lost "scalding" scene from the director's cut of 9 Weeks. Dessert fondues are another matter entirely. Chocolate, especially finger-lickin' melted chocolate, is one aphrodisiac I won't contest. But if you serve cheese fondue, all you need to offer besides is a salad and maybe some sherbet, and you've got a meal. Fondue at the end of dinner involves a lot of other courses beforehand, which isn't conducive to wooing. Following a fondue entr饠with a fondue dessert is pure overkill, like dosing your date with Spanish fly and putting Ravel's Bolero on the hi-fi. Although specialty restaurants exist (like Boiling Point Fondue in Woodinville or lower Queen Anne's The Melting Pot), opportunities to savor l'amour diminish markedly when fondue is consumed in public. Even those latent exhibitionists who routinely gross out the rest of us with their hand-holding and Eskimo kisses in the middle of Pacific Place may find it hard to stay in the mood after the adjacent family of four starts squabbling over who gets to eat the crust at the bottom of the pot (it's a delicacy—honest). Plus, you have to contend with the lingering aroma of a room—possibly even carpeted—where the air has been filled night after night for untold years with fumes from hot grease and melted cheese. FONDUE PREPARATION is remarkably simple, but because a few components require extra effort and planning, it meets the aforementioned criteria for romance perfectly. First, there's the pot. If your parents got married in the '60s or '70s, they probably have one or more fondue sets buried in the basement. Otherwise, scour the thrift stores; it's unlikely you'll serve fondue often enough to warrant buying a new model. Ceramic is preferable to metal, which scorches faster if the heat gets too high. (A decent chafing dish works in a pinch, too.) If you're assembling your equipment piecemeal from the Goodwill, do not pinch pennies by passing up proper fondue forks: a) their barbed tines secure the bread better, and b) they have wooden handles, unlike most ordinary silverware. The cheese you're dipping in is very hot, and metal is a heat conductor. If you can't make it through dinner without scorching your fingers, how do you expect to initiate foreplay? The only unusual ingredient called for is kirsch, available at most liquor stores. If you skip the doing-shots rule, expect to have the bottle on hand indefinitely. "It's good for making fondue, Black Forest cake, and marinated cherries," the checkout clerk told me, "but it's not exactly potable." While I finished cooking, my patient dinner date tried a spoonful, and—once he'd finished coughing—announced that his internal body temperature had soared. Also, make sure you purchase the correct size of canned heat to fit your serving setup. Based on my fruitless search, few—if any—merchants in the greater Seattle region still stock the smallest tins of Sterno. Thus I was forced to keep extinguishing and reigniting the flame in order to maintain proper serving temperature, because the oversized can I used was situated too close to the bottom of the pot. These concerns aside, potential pitfalls are minimal. I prepared fondue for a fella I'm hot and bothered over just the other night, and although our meal didn't culminate with wild sex on the kitchen floor, it did remind me of fondue's most wonderful property: Once served, there's almost no reason to leave the table. We enjoyed a leisurely meal with minimal distractions, which allowed for lots of time to talk and laugh and make goo-goo eyes at each other. And wouldn't it be fun to get acquainted with somebody before you jump in the sack for a change?

 
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