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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 28, 2003

Waioli Tea Room dips into fondue variations

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Montana visitors Nancy and Robert Larsson ordered the fondue recently at the Waioli Tea Room in Manoa.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Fondue Dinner

Waioli Tea Room

2950 Manoa Road

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

5:30-9 p.m.


1/2 Mediocre

Waioli Tea Room offers a Roaring Twenties Fondue Dinner on weekends. This reference is obscure; fondue and the Roaring Twenties have no connection. But here they play big-band jazz over the stereo system, and staffers dress in flapper outfits and wide-lapel suits.

Before we check out the tea room's version of the dish, a little background on fondue. There are three primary kinds of fondue: cheese, meat and dessert. The Swiss take credit for the cheese variety, the French for the meat one, and the Americans for the dessert variety. The word fondue comes from the French verb fondre which means to melt.

In earlier times, cheese and bread were made in summer and autumn to last throughout the winter. Over the months, both became very hard; the bread literally had to be chopped with an ax. The Swiss discovered that if cheese were heated with wine over a fire, it softened and became edible. In the long, cold Swiss winters, it was pleasant to huddle around the fire with a large pot of melted cheese. Hence, the communal Swiss (cheese) fondue meal was born.

Three appetizer fondues based on cheese are offered at the Waioli Tea Room's weekends-only service, a $14 serving sufficient for one or two people. A platter of fresh cubed bread, carrot wedges, cauliflower, and a Granny Smith apple are there for the dunking.

The brie version is described as flavored with sauteed onions, garlic and tarragon, but I was unable to identify those tastes. The dish was akin to a bland cream sauce, and it was not hot when served.

The gruyere cider fondue combines shredded gruyere cheese and what the menu calls shrimp bouillabaisse. The flavor was better on this one, but it, too, was not hot.

The final fondue appetizer is smoked cheddar and ham, with hickory bacon bits.

I was extremely disappointed and confounded that the traditional cheese fondue isn't available. It's quite easy to prepare, and the one diners are most likely to be familiar with — a melting combination of gruyere and emmenthal cheese stirred into hot, dry white wine, flavored slightly with garlic, nutmeg and kirsch (cherry brandy).

Waioli does make four entree fondues: swinging steak ($28), high kick'n seafood ($26), "posilutely copacetic" chicken ($22), and the "where's the beef?" vegetarian ($18).

First, a primer on meat fondues: there are oil and broth varieties.

Often called fondue bourguignon, the oil variety originated centuries ago in Burgundy's famous vineyards. Here, when the grapes were ripe, harvesting became the priority, without time for a midday meal. The story goes that a larcenous monk had the idea of heating oil to dunk-cook pieces of meat stolen from his abbot's private stash, so that vineyard workers could eat on the run.

This oil-cooking method yields a much better fondue, in my opinion: The natural sugars caramelize, resulting in a tastier exterior. The food cooks faster, too, creating a more tender interior.

The four savory entree fondues at Waioli Tea Room are, however, cooked in broth, similar to shabu-shabu, which originated in Asia.

The steak fondue combines marinated sirloin and filet mignon on separate skewers. Sweet-potato mochi, polenta dumplings, potato, mushroom and broccoli accompany the meat, and all are cooked in the pot of hot broth (in this case, a garlic-infused burgundy cooking bouillon) and cooked to your desired doneness. The meat comes out looking rather gray and unappetizing.

Dipping sauces change from time to time, but included wasabi aioli, pesto-mustard, cranberry-guava, sesame seed-shoyu, and applesauce-horseradish when I visited.

The seafood entree was much better, the broth-cooking method being much kinder to marine ingredients. Five skewers of 'ahi, three shrimp and three scallops cooked fast and retained their sea-sweet flavors.

When it's time for dessert, the chocolate fantasy fondue ($16) is excellent. They melt a fine Belgian chocolate, Callebaut, and give you a platter of sponge cake, marshmallows, brownies, strawberries, pineapple and kiwi to dip into the molten chocolate.

In these fondue evenings, Waioli has a good idea; however, the execution is flawed. The lovely setting and the chocolate dessert fondue are probably the best reasons to visit.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.