April 11 was National Cheese Fondue Day, but don’t worry about the date. Communal tabletop cooking is celebrated every evening at The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant.
The building in historic downtown Manitou Springs was once the Park Place Hotel. This is evident in the numerous intimate dining areas comprising the restaurant. Each room has a theme: the study, drawing room and veranda, among others.
Linen napkins and tablecloths, lemon slices in water glasses and the deliberate pacing of the meal, with time to savor the courses and enjoy leisurely conversation, are all indications of a fine dining establishment.
Although it’s possible to order a la carte, the best route is the four course dinner ($43 per person). This includes a choice of Caesar, garden or seasonal salad. Plan on a $3 upcharge for the latter. The dressings are house made, and I especially liked the fruity flavors of the apricot and mango vinaigrette on the garden mixed greens.
The most difficult choice of the evening at the Mona Lisa was the cheese fondue course, because all sound exquisite: Old World, the classic made with a blend of emmental and Gruyère Swiss cheeses and white wine; New World, featuring sharp cheddar and emmental Swiss and beer; or Southwest, with cheddar cheese and the intriguing strawberry salsa, described as “only a little bit spicy, but the spice is there.” Cubes of rye and French bread from La Baguette in Old Colorado City are served with fresh raw vegetables for dipping in the hot cheese mixtures. The Southwest fondue also includes tortilla chips.
I overheard someone at another table say she wanted “all three worlds.” I agree, since all sounded appealing. Ultimately, we chose the New World and practically cleaned the fondue pot to avoid wasting any of the gooey cheese. Other cheese choices may be ordered with a $4 upcharge: Greek, brie and Fontina.
Where the cheese course must be agreed upon by everyone at the table, the main course is not limited. The standard entrees are either the meat or vegetarian platters. Seafood and game are $10 upgrades. Square chunks of flat iron steak, salmon, chicken, Teriyaki filet, shrimp and bratwurst comprise the meat plate. The vegetarian option includes asparagus, artichoke hearts, Portobello mushrooms, tofu and “assorted garden vegetables.”
Servers practically glide in some Mona Lisa choreography as they move one hot pot, replacing it with a hot grill or another hot pot. The transitions are smooth and effortless. Explanations are given at each course. For example, when the coupelles, small square-shaped pans used for melting cheese, arrived at the table with the Raclette grill, we weren’t left sitting dumbfounded. Raclette is a semihard cheese with excellent melting qualities.
Roasted rosemary potatoes, a slice of bread (perfect for the cheese, which caramelizes nicely), lemon, a dill pickle and an assortment of sauces are accompaniments. Everyone can grill to their liking. Each piece provided several substantial bites. My favorite was the rich-as-butter salmon.
For some, the main reason for fondue may be chocolate. This is the fourth course. Choices are milk, white and dark, with several possibilities to enhance (with upcharges, of course). Who needs to mess with dark chocolate? Fresh fruit and baked goods such as brownies and cheesecake make this a decadent dessert worth every bite.
Wine pairings are available. Reservations are recommended, and diners should plan to spend two hours to enjoy their meals. Check Mona Lisa’s website or Facebook page for specials.Restaurant: The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant
Address: 733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Contact: 685-0277; monalisafondue.com
Restaurant character: Fine dining fondue style
Rating total: 4.5 of 5 forks
Food: 4.5 of 5 forks
Ambiance: 4.5 of 5 forks
Service: 4.5 of 5 forks
Hours: 5 p.m. nightly with last seating at 8:30 p.m.
Entrees: $43 per person; a la carte available
Credit cards: Yes
Vegan options: Yes
Outdoor dining: Yes
Gluten-free options: Yes
Wi-Fi: Upon request
What’s online as of April 24:
• 7.7 of 20 based on 23 votes on Foursquare
• 4.5 of 5 stars based on 221 reviews on TripAdvisor
• 3.7 of 5 rating based on 60 votes on Zomato
• 4 of 5 stars based on 275 reviews on Yelp
• Active on Facebook
Excellent rating Sept. 6 by El Paso County Public Health.