Mona Lisa 

102 11th Ave. N., Nampa 208-442-1400. Open for dinner Tue.-Sat., 5 p.m.-close

To prepare for this review, I revved up my metabolism with an eight-mile morning run. I'd done the fondue thing at Mona Lisa before and knew a calorie overload awaited: warm and gooey cheese fondue, chunks of fresh bread, a variety of meats washed down with wine, followed by brownie bites and cheesecake squares dipped in chocolate. This time, I approached the popular fondue palace from a more-sensible angle by planning to forgo the wine, limit the baked goods and consume more fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. I definitely walked away full, but at least I didn't feel like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who swelled up like a gigantic blueberry and had to be rolled out by Oompa Loompas.

I reviewed Mona Lisa in 2003 and visited the downtown satellite during its brief existence, and I'm glad to report that, aside from a change in ownership, little has changed about the former blacksmith's shop since it opened in 1998. The interior is still a charming, nook-filled cavern with an abundance of tiny white lights and is popular for anniversaries and marriage proposals. The folks at Mona Lisa work hard to create an intimate, attentive atmosphere that keeps guests coming back.

The menu at Mona Lisa is pretty simple. You can order a la carte entrees ($14-$26), or you can go for the gusto by ordering the four-course fondue for two, which includes salad, cheese fondue, meats that you cook on a raclette grill and dessert fondue. The price of the two-fer depends on whether you chose the "traditional platter" ($33/person) with filet mignon, chicken breast, shrimp, pork tenderloin and alligator bratwurst, or the "seafood platter" ($43/person) with lobster, shrimp, scallops, tuna and salmon. A four-page wine list and about two dozen beer selections are also available.

Dining with Curly (my co-tester), we opted for the traditional fondue for two. I started with a fresh spinach salad full of crumbled bacon, sliced almonds, mushrooms and red onions in a tangy raspberry vinaigrette. Curly had the Caesar salad made with crispy Romaine, shaved Parmesan and homemade croutons. Of the five fondue choices, Curly decided on the DaVinci blend made with Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheeses and house-made pesto, into which we swirled fresh fruit and vegetables including grapes, broccoli and green apples, as well as a few chunks of herbed wheat bread and nice black bread. After clearing away the not-quite-empty fondue pot, our waitress, Dawn, returned with the raclette grill, which is like a lid-less, double-decker George Foreman with cooking areas underneath and on top. An array of serving dishes loaded with dipping sauces, dainty slices of meats and vegetables, and two slabs of mozzarella came next. We wasted no time in tucking the mozzarella beneath the raclette, eagerly anticipating the bubbly, browned puddle it would become. We grilled our beef, and turned our chicken and pork golden brown. We eased the oozing mozzarella over a mound of buttered, mashed rosemary potatoes, which were a little salty, but I couldn't stop eating.

White chocolate fondue came last, into which we dipped strawberries, bananas, grapes and green apple slices. Tiny brownies, cheesecake bites, pretzels, ladyfingers and marshmallows also tempted, but I stuck with the fruit (um ... and half a cheesecake bite.) Without an Oompa Loompa in sight, Curly and I walked away satisfied, agreeing that it was yet another enjoyable meal at Mona Lisa.

—Jennifer Hernandez has fondue dreams and cheesecake wishes.

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