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Friday, December 10, 2010

Out with the Kids: Fondue Holiday at the Matterhorn

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 2:58 PM

click to enlarge Kids love the Matterhorn's Natural ($38), a blend of Emmenthal and Gruyère. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • Kids love the Matterhorn's Natural ($38), a blend of Emmenthal and Gruyère.

A holiday meal out with the kids seems like a great idea ― until it's time to pick a spot that makes everyone happy. House of Prime Rib? Have fun waiting an hour in the packed bar while little Jimmy overloads on the free snack mix and breaks a few martini glasses. Tea at the Garden Court? That'll run you $38 per child for a few small reindeer-shaped Wonder Bread sandwiches, bland cookies with red sprinkles, and tea your daughter takes two sips of before demanding a Coke. Benihana? Nothing says Christmas like a grown man flipping shrimp tails into his hat.

Our family celebrates at the Matterhorn, the temple of fondue on Van Ness. Large vats of melted cheese make for an engaging family meal that keeps the kids busy and focused.

Swiss couple Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe (she works front of the house, he's the chef) have quietly been the proprietors here since 1994.

click to enlarge Give in ― order dessert. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • Give in ― order dessert.

The adult preference is the Original, a blend of Emmenthal and Gruyère spiked with wine, a little kirsch, garlic, and black peppercorns. It has an easy, boozy flavor that doesn't overshadow the glorious cheesiness. The Natural (a little more Emmenthal, a little less alcohol) is a bit blander. Both cost $38 for two, and include salad.

The Natural tastes more purely of cheese, and is our daughters' favorite. The girls love to play the game where you have to kiss someone at the table if you drop your bread in the fondue pot, kind of like mistletoe for Jews. My wife and I used to play that game before we had kids, but after pounding many glasses of Gewürztraminer it was a little different. Well, a lot different.

If your little ones see chocolate fondue ($18, enough for four) at another table, they're going to beg like dogs for it so you might as well just give in. And why not? Not even Scrooge could could resist a warm bowl of dark chocolate melted in milk, with a variety of fruits and marshmallows for dipping. Our girls nearly kill each other with their fondue spears to get the marshmallows, so we strongly suggest getting an extra order. Especially since $3 is a minimal price to pay for holiday peace, and is a whole lot cheaper than a bill at the emergency room.

Made almost entirely of wood and stained glass and decorated with Swiss art, the dining room here can make grownups feel like they're wintering in Saint Moritz. Children, however, may feel like they're wintering at Disneyland. Our daughters find the décor reminiscent of It's a Small World ― thankfully minus the puppets and suicide-inducing music.

A warning before you make the Matterhorn a part of your family's holiday traditions: It may well turn into a birthday tradition, too. Per our kids' wishes, they now blow out candles over chocolate fondue rather than chocolate cake.

The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant: 2323 Van Ness (at Green), 885-6116.

Follow Alex Hochman at @urbanstomach . Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie.

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Alex Hochman

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