By Kim Fuller
With one swirl of my fondue fork, a square of bread drenched in melted Swiss Gruyere and Emmental fell back into the hot pot, and I watched the crusty French cube drown into the mass of bubbling cheese.
I leaned over the table (to the side of the fire-lit ceramic fondue crock) to kiss my dinner date; it’s customary to peck the person to your left every time you lose a fondue bite you’re preparing. Multiple fork-fallen casualties meant a lot of public affection displayed between my boyfriend and I on this February evening at Der Fondue Chessel in Keystone, but no one seemed to care as we sat at our space set for two, nestled by a roaring fire at the end of a long banquet table.
The dinner was more about fun and camaraderie than romance, especially in the large, German beer hall-style setting, with a trio of jovial musicians playing from table to table.
It’s the two, non-heated gondola rides (about 30 minutes total) on the way up to the mountaintop restaurant that demand closeness on a cold night. We hit a frigid one, but stayed cozy together in each enclosed and floating cable car, snuggled beneath two fleece blankets.
Nothing says Valentine’s Day like bowls of cheese and chocolate, whether that means fondue for two, or a communal dinner with a large group. Der Fondue Chessel serves four courses with the base price of $62 for adults ($31 for 6 to 12 year olds, and free for ages 5 and under). A large wine list offers a range of glass pours and bottle selections, from flutes of brut and cheese-hugging Austrian Grüner Veltliner, to berry and chocolate-forward California Syrah.
Cheese fondue — either traditional or a chef Gouda blend — is served first, with bread and veggies to dip. The cheese of your choice melts during the caesar salad course, prepared tableside by servers dressed in traditional dirndls and lederhosen.
The servings are portioned per group size, but it can still be tempting to overeat. Pace your appetite to save room meat, veggies and seafood in the raclette course. Melt segments of cheese on a small pans, known as coupelles, alongside charcuterie, pickled vegetables, onions and garlic, and slide the combination onto bread to eat with meat (or veggies) you sear yourself. Add deluxe bites like venison, Wagyu tri tip or sea scallops for some extra dollars.
As always with fondue, the finale is creamy and sweet — melted chocolate served with treats like cake, fresh strawberries, bananas foster bites, marshmallows and crispy tuile cookies. Turn up the heat with the Flaming Turtle, a combination of melted milk or dark chocolate, toasted almonds, caramel, and flamed with Barcari 151. Really, what’s not to love?
Kim Fuller is a freelance writer based in Vail.