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Matterhorn Restaurant
2323 Van Ness Avenue/Vallejo, SF
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Pretrial hearing at the bar
1/26/02

Guest Judge Suzanne

Cheese FondueThe evening was very exciting for me, knowing that I would not only be a guest judge of the beloved F¸d Court but that we were also eating at The Matterhorn! I remember fondue from my childhood in the suburban 70s of California and with its resurgence I'd hoped this meal would be the fondue that I'd judge all others against.

We all met at the bar and I should've known that the story here would be the story for the rest of our dinner. It was hard to get the bartender's attention to order a drink and even harder to get her attention to pay for it!! I guess that's only half-bad though... We sat in one of their comfortable blonde wood booths, and we sat and we sat and we sat. Finally our waiter explained apologetically that they were understaffed that night. But even when things slowed down the service wasn't any better.

We ordered the Half and Half Fondue Moitie, a blend of Fribourg Vacherin and Gruyere, the "Oh La La" Fondue Normaindie, a blend of French Raclette and Camembert, and the Fondue Bourguignonne, hot oil and beef cubes. (We also got a side of sausages, yummm!) Karin chose two wines, a white Fondant 2000 for the cheese and a red vins des Chevaliers Dole 1998 for the beef, both of them Swiss. It's hard to say which of the cheese combos I liked better. The flavors were very similar and I must say I ate plenty of both! The white wine, slightly sweet, worked very well with the tanginess of both cheeses. All in all a thumbs up! The hot oil and beef, however, was a different story. At first it was a lot of fun having a boiling pot of oil in front of us and the sizzle and crackle of the beef just added to the excitement! The first couple of beef bits tasted great because the oil was hot and the beef cubes came out crispy. But alas, the oil cooled and so we were forced to leave the beef cubes in for a very long time to properly cook them. Yes, they did indeed turn into tough greasy chunks. Very sad. Also, the red wine was weak and lacked any zippidy-do-da that would've countered the richness of deep-fried beef.

Meat FondueWe were given an large assortment of beef dipping condiments but of them all I only liked the curry, horseradish, and the tartar. The apple compote just didn't do it for me. We were also given several little dishes of things like pickled cocktail onions, kiwi, pineapple, marinated olives, and mushrooms. I didn't understand it and didn't need any of it.

In short, while I really liked the cheese fondues, but could've done without the beef. At the very least (next time) I would try the beef with hot broth instead of oil. I liked the atmosphere of a recreated Swiss Chalet, but we shouldn't have had to ask for our second bottle of wine three times, nor should we have had to ask for water and ask for water and ask for water! Overall I'm happy I went but don't think I would go again.

So with all that said I give it 2 corn dogs. Get a good fondue book and try it at home!

 

Our lovely table.Special Counsel Ask Andy

Unfortunately, special counsel Ask Andy was unable to make the fondue fest and instead sent Bad Andy, the notorious loud-talking, inappropriate comment making fool who seems to be popping up with a frequency unseen since about 1998. You have been warned.

As we were joined by expert witness Ruppert, I will refrain from making any real judgments on the fondue. Overall it was pretty durn good... the Camembert-Gruyere mix (I think) was nice: mellow and rich. The vacherin-gruyere mix was even better, adding in a bit of that good old cheesy funk that we all know and love. I'm sure the Swiss have some better cheese at their disposal but we weren't there and their cheese wasn't here so we made do. All in all my comment is this: I was surrounded by cheese all day. I even ate cheese all day. And then what did I do? I went and ate more cheese... so, how bad could it have been. Rumor is that restaurants are notorious for stretching their fondue with a little cornstarch... rumor also had it that the Matterhorn falls prey to such insidious budget-minded practice. But it still tasted good.

Then there was the meat. Gluttons that we are, we opted for the meat in oil just in case we hadn't reached our fat and cholesterol limit with the two cheese pots. At first the meat was great... crisped up nice and toasty in a bubbling vat of fat. Topped with one of the zillion condiments it was a nice break from the cheese. However, as the night wore on and the oil cooled down the meat began turning out gray, greasy, and lifeless. No amount of horseradish mayo is gonna fix that. Eat the meat hot and quick. Lesson learned. My experiments with deep frying the little side dishes were largely met with failure and a number of morsels (artichoke hearts, kiwis, olives) met their doom in the depths of the oil pot. The fried potato dipped in cheese, however, was an undeniable success.

A word on the wine: The first effervescent Swiss white (seeming something Alsatian-like) was a perfect foil for the cheese. The repulsive, lamentable red, however, was an embarrassment not only to Swiss winemakers but also the the grape itself. Thankfully by that point, even Bad Andy knew to call it quits and passed his glass to Judge Turner.

The service was pretty sad. We had to ask for the wine three separate times before it arrived. Then again, seeing how bad it was, perhaps the waiter was trying to do us a favor. I suppose I'd be surly too if my livelihood consisted of dressing up in somebody else's faux-traditional garb and giving thankless tourist buckets of bubbling cheese (though, I suppose that is more or less what I do) in exchange for paltry tips... but we all have to live with our decisions.

Fondue should be eaten at home where both the kirsch and bathroom are close at hand. However, just for kicks, the Matterhorn is worthy of one visit. You'll leave full, happy, probably a little sick.

 

Click here for more!McClure

Zow, what an outing for the Füd Court. We had the pleasure of dining with our very own special counsel Ask Andy as well as guest judge Suzanne and fondue expert Karin.

Being my first try at the fondue -- in a restaurant, that is -- I foundue it nice to share with a large group.

The Matterhorn is on the 101 or Van Ness if you like, sorta off on its own but there is Polk Street just a block away. The restaurant is pleasant enough but even with posters of nice-looking Swiss places it lacks the charm I was hoping for. The dining room is more on the sterile side but not uncomfortable.

For the fondue, which is all we ordered, it works like this: Pick your 'due from a variety of cheese or meat types, or a little of both. They sell them to serve two people at about $28 for the cheese and $40 for the meat. I believe they can easily feed two and maybe even three. You can also order some sides for 'due-ing, like sausage or shrimp. I say the cheese fondue is the way to go. You don't get much better than drowning hunks of fresh bread in hot cheese and eatin' it right up. Then again, how hard is it to melt some cheese, thicken it up and flavor it with some wine? Could be very difficult -- I don't know.

The meat fondue was... eh. It started off pretty good: tender bits of beef that fried up nicely in the hot oil and had plenty of sauces to choose from for dipping. The problem was that after a couple dips the oil went cool and after that all you got was a warmed up chunk of meat that barely went past gray -- no more tasty crispy bits. The salad that came with was very nice, topped with egg, tomato, and a tangy dressing.

The service at our particular outing was poor. Sure it was Saturday night but the waiter was not very attentive and had to be asked repeatedly to bring the wine or fill a water glass. He even seemed put out. I don't know if it was directed at us or at the place he works but I say strive for good to great service or don't serve at all.

I would recommend you give the Matterhorn a try. It definitely has something going on, cheese-food-wise.

 

Turner

Out in front.San Francisco isn't exactly brimming with fondue restaurants, let alone Swiss restaurants. So when guest judge Suzanne suggested The Matterhorn, who were we to argue? And we're certainly not going to argue with a meal of melted cheese. Good God no.

All of my previous cheese fondue experiences have been of the homemade variety. Lovingly prepared by actual Swiss people in residential kitchens with only the choicest ingredients. That means a blend of quality cheeses like Gruyere, Vacherin and Emmenthaler (what we call Swiss Cheese), dry white wine, Kirsch (cherry schnapps), special secret spices and plenty of garlic. This is comfort food elevated to a cosmic level, I can assure you.

And I have to say The Matterhorn stood up fairly well in comparison. Perhaps not quite as rich and complex, but pretty good. We got a couple of cheesers and one oil fondue, known as Bourguignonne or French-style over there in Switzerland. Skip the oil one. But our two cheese choices worked out pretty well. We got a traditional Gruyere/Vacherin mix and a more exotic one with Camembert. Both good, but not as good as homemade. Expert witness Ruppert presented evidence of excessive cornstarch filler by pointing out that the cheese did not congeal quickly when dropped on a plate. Interesting. Little skimpy on the garlic, too.

But still, they make a fairly honest fondue there. It's a warm, woody, festive atmosphere, and there's not much competition around. So check it out for a group-outing-treat kind of deal. Not cheap! And our service sucked. But I think they were shorthanded. We'll continue our search for a better fondue joint, but until then, The Matterhorn is about all we can recommend.

 

Vardigan

Matterhorn goes down as one of the largest Füd Court trials in history, and the appearance of Bad Ask Andy likely landed artist renderings on Court TV. Surrounded by tables full of zero San Francisco residents -- this is strictly a tourist destination -- we managed to make it through two cheese fondues and one oil.

For my money (and the place is not cheap), cheese is the way to go. The oil is too much stress for too little return. Are you cooking the meat enough? Too much? Who the hell knows. Especially when the oil's getting all mucked up and losing its clout. So, go with the cheese. How can you go wrong with melted cheese? But be warned: They cut that stuff with corn starch galore. If you're feeling industrious and want fondue done really right, find yourself a pot, petition expert witness Ruppert for a recipe, and have a little party at home.

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