Romance's final frontier smells of oil

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Candlelight and grease stains
A recent issue of the Reader was dedicated to eulogizing romance, a thing that died around the time UPS started delivering flowers in cardboard boxes. Or maybe it was when Marlon Brando filmed the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris. I'm not sure. Either way, most people agree that Romance has expired and is waiting ever-so-patiently beyond the grave for its counterpart Love, which is ailing. Any day now.

Of course, none of this is true, and romance is alive and well, and I know that because Fondue Stube on Peterson is still open.

Think about it. Basking in the glow of flickering candlelight (and also the flickering light from a can of Sterno); spearing fluffy tufts of bread on the end of a tiny skewer, a two-pronged version of a shirtless sea god's pitchfork in miniature; wine-spiked, molten cheese sliding down your throat; platters of raw meats, hot oil dripping down your lover's chin and into a quivering puddle of bearnaise sauce . . .

Aroused? Physically ill? OK, so, mostly I think fondue is romantic because someone in the 70s said it was. Maybe a last-ditch effort after they saw Last Tango in Paris.

I did a decent amount of research before I decided on Fondue Stube over other fondue places in town. I have family in Switzerland, and I've eaten fondue in just about the quaintest Alpine chateau in all of Molinis, a tiny village in the mountains outside Chur that I just learned isn't even a place anymore. I don't see any point in attempting to re-create that experience in Chicago. Also, Fondue Stube was the cheapest and had the funniest/punniest menu. I'd call it "cheesy," but then I'd have to walk out into traffic.

My dining companion and I visited Fondue Stube a few days before Valentine's Day, and love was definitely in the air. Also in the air: the smell of boiling oil. Our clothes and hair were thick with the smell, especially after we got outside and then into the car and then were at home several hours later. It's all part of the experience.

Glittery cardboard hearts were hung hither and thither, along with red strings of Mardi Gras beads draped from this lighting fixture or that sconce. What I'm about to show you is the after-dinner drink menu that's printed on the paper place mats on each table (the predinner cocktails are called Preludes, which reminds me a lot of this). I think you're really going to like it:

I hope the person who came up with Too Hot to Händel is kicked back in a hot tub in the mountains somewhere, smoking a cigar, counting his millions, and enjoying a snifter spilling over with warm brandy, because he earned it. Rhapsody in Booze really works for me, too. Other feats in menu item naming: their three dinner combinations—which consist of cheese fondue, a meat fondue, and a dessert fondue—are called the Sinfonia Eroica, the Classic, and the Romeo and Juliet.

As much as I'd like to tell you I feasted on the Sinfonia Eroica, we actually didn't get any of the combinations because, blech, dessert fondue. Instead we went with the Swiss cheese fondue, and two soybean oil fondues, the chicken and the beef.

The only thing we had that's prepared in the kitchen was the cheese fondue, which was great (although, I've never met a pot of melted cheese I didn't like). Presumably a combo of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses, it had just the right amount of bite from the glug of kirchwasser, and a little bit of nutmeg nuttiness. It's served with fluffy squares of French bread and green apple slices. The meat fondues were totally fine: big portions and lots of veggies and sauce options (unlimited, actually, but we didn't need more of either), including a raspberry honey mustard exhumed from some culinary tomb that was really tasty in a way that would make me reluctant to admit I thought it was really tasty. I think we agreed the bearnaise was the most fun.

Between the salad, the garlic bread, the cheese fondue, and the two meat fondues, it was just way too much food, and if anyone would have brought a pot of melted chocolate to our table, I would have started screaming. Fondue is romantic unless you eat until you puke.

Fondue Stube, 2717 W. Peterson, 773-784-2200, fonduestube.com

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