Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just What is Fusion Cuisine? says that “Fusion cuisine blends the culinary traditions of two or more nations to create innovative and sometimes quite interesting dishes.” But today the definition of fusion cuisine seems to have been extended to describe a restaurant, often Asian, that offers foods from more than one country. The Asian Grill in Albuquerque seems to fit both desig-nations.

“As a cook-turned-sailor stopping at ports of call throughout Asia, Nang Thai was on the lookout for details that defined the cuisines he encountered. And now, as the owner of Asian Grill on Gibson, he’s more than happy to stand by your table and tell you about his various epiphanies.... Vietnamese specialties are a strong suit at Asian Grill, which isn’t surprising given that Thai comes from a Vietnamese family.... While many of the recipes are carefully regional and authentic, there are also a few plates that are experiments in fusion, such as the ahi tuna steak. Pan-seared and thin-sliced, Japanese style, on a bed of greens; the tuna is served with ginger sauce and a pile of fried rice” (from The

Asian Grill is located in a newish strip mall in what is now called Albuquerque’s International District—east of I-25 and north of the airport. When we arrived for lunch, the place was only a quarter full, but there is not much around to generate a lunch-time crowd. We were seated in one of the booths, and each booth and table contained bottle of sriracha, hoisen, and soy sauce under a photo of one of the menu items. In fact, the menu was replete with full color photos that only served to whet our appetites.

We started by sharing two appetizers—the fried wontons and the crispy fried shrimp. The wontons (six of them) were tasty little purses filled with ground pork and chopped shrimp seasoned with ginger and garlic. With these came a small cup of sweet chile sauce. But no need for that sauce, for our server (more about service later) also brought two dishes containing peppery condiments. One was chile flakes cooked in oil. And the other pictured here was something entirely new to me—sate, a traditional Vietnamese sauce that the restaurant makes in-house with two kinds of chiles, lemongrass, ground peanuts, and other seasonings. (These I am sure were house secrets on which our server did not elaborate). The flavors were complex and spicy and produced a back-of-the-mouth heat.

Before I describe the second appetizer, I have a confession to make. Years ago, I tried a recipe of Rachel Ray’s. I know. I should immediately proceed to the Culinary Hall of Shame. This was a way of making fried chicken strips using boxed pancake batter as the base for the batter. (Can you believe I actually did this?) A total fiasco with a thick chewy coating. Although Rachel’s was far worse, the coating on the crispy shrimp reminded me of this recipe. Under all that batter were very good butterflied shrimp, but the coating was a total distraction.

Chuck’s lunch choice was the lunch-sized portion of Singa Spicy Sate Beef. This contained slices of beef that were thicker than you find in Mongolian Beef, carrots, green peppers, and scallions in the house’s basic brown sauce that was seasoned with the Vietnamese sate. Had it not been for a few pieces of chewy beef, this would have been a Five Star (or should I say Addie) dish. But the contrast between the crisp cooked vegetables and the more tender pieces of beef made for a good texture balance.

My entrée was the Phuket Chowfun—Thai-style rice noodles in the same house brown sauce that was flavored with the chile flake oil with mung bean sprouts, carrots, and quick stir-fried broccoli topped with ground peanuts. As a protein, I had my choice of chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp and of course chose the latter. I find Asian noodles to be softer than Italian semolina flour pasta and what would be wrong under an Italian red sauce always seems to work in an Asian dish. I especially like the rice noodles as opposed Asian wheat flour noodles or cellophane noodles. I had enough of this large serving to share with Chuck and to take home for dinner that evening.

I don’t know if this happens at every meal, but that noon all of the diners were comped a small plate containing two small squares of coconut cake and two very moist coconut macaroons. What a pleasant alternative to fortune cookies.

A final word about the service. How many Asian restaurants have you eaten in where you have been met with indifferent if not surly servers? Not here. From the young man who greeted us as we entered to our server (I think his name is Phu) to the person I took to be the manager if not the owner, all of the service was friendly, efficient, and informative.

Well, it seems we have found another Asian restaurant in Albuquerque to join Asian Noodle Bar and Chopstix. We certainly plan to return and give Asian Grill a 4.0 Addie score.

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