Fusion experiments are hit or miss

Eats

April 20, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At this point, we've eaten in so many restaurants in strip malls that we never make a snap judgment about a place that overlooks a parking lot, as Fusion Grille does. Inside, the restaurant is quite pleasant. It has a large, airy main dining room that is completely separate from a small bar and takeout window.

We weren't sure what kind of food to expect from Fusion Grille, which opened last December. Asian? Italian? American? As it turns out, the restaurant serves a bit of all three.

The menu is copious. There are daily food and wine specials to choose from and a plentiful selection of regular appetizers, salads and entrees. Every meal begins with a basket of good bread.

Our three pieces of bruschetta, grilled Italian bread garnished with, respectively, red peppers, olive spread and a mixture of pineapple and onion, is disappointing. The peppers are sweet but bland, the olive spread salty and bland, and the roasted pineapple/onion mixture is a bizarre-tasting experiment you shouldn't try at home.

A quesadilla appetizer filled with buffalo mozzarella and pancetta has almost no flavor. We fare better with thick, creamy crab dip, which is served with tasty house-made tortilla chips. Another appetizer, scallops served with several of the olive-spread bruschetta toasts, is good: The salty olives work here by adding savoriness to the sweet scallops, and the toast is good for mopping up the cream sauce.

Like the appetizers, entrees are a mixed bag. Southwest Asian baby back ribs are chewy and dry, with an unpleasant, sweet hoisin and chipotle pepper sauce. The ribs come with leaden mashed potatoes and well-prepared, crisp asparagus spears.

A tasty seafood bisque is loaded with fish, scallops, shrimp, clams and crab, and served in a hollowed-out boule of bread. Southwest salmon Alfredo is linguine with a "fusionized" Alfredo sauce that includes pecans and ancho chilies. All of it is overwhelmed by a surfeit of Parmesan, which is not the best accompaniment to pecans we have ever had.

We also try a special -- barbecued tequila pork chops and shrimp. The pork and shrimp are adequately cooked, but they are drenched in a "golden barbecue" sauce that is full of muddled flavors and cloyingly sweet.

Desserts are presented on a tray, and our server tells us that they are made in-house. They look fine, but once again, the quality is uneven. Carrot cake, full of texture and flavor, is topped with just the right amount of fresh-tasting cream-cheese icing. A berry torte has a fine crust and an assortment of sweet fruit. But a weighty block of bread pudding has almost no flavor, and chocolate butter-cream cake is nothing short of bland.

Our server was a delight, though. She complied with every request we made, from asking to be moved (from a table by the kitchen's swinging door) to ordering a side of marinara sauce just so we could taste it (it had a tinny quality and too much oregano and sugar).

The long drive to Fallston revealed very little in the way of competition for Fusion Grille. Although the prices are steep (averaging $10.95 to $17.95), many diners have brought along young children, presumably hoping to introduce them to fine cuisine.

For those smaller diners, there is a children's menu, which offers sophisticated items like grilled salmon fillet, along with the usual pizza, burgers and chicken. Clearly, the owners have thought of just about everything.

Unfortunately, they don't seem to have thought too much about how the food actually tastes or whether items from disparate cultures -- like mozzarella and tortillas -- actually work together.

The offerings were uneven at best, and there was nothing in our experience to suggest that the kitchen was still working out the kinks. In fact, food is served promptly and hot, and the whole operation seems to hum.

Given the lack of competition, a reasonably pleasant environment and good service, the restaurant may do well. Call us crazy, but we think there's more to fusion than a hodgepodge of food trends.

Fusion Grille

2402 Pleasantville Road, Fallston 410-877-1550

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Prices: $5.95 to $9.95 for lunch; $6.95 to $21.95 for dinner

Food: **

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

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