By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Of course the name "Fuse" probably doesn't refer to the fizzing cord that sets off an explosive charge or even the gadget in electrical circuits that keeps the hair dryer from turning the house into a pizza kiln (though the latter reference is possible, as Fuse is located in the renovated Dallas Power & Light building). Fuse probably refers to the verb form of possible "fuse" definitions, which is to meld, merge, combine. You can deduce this from the logo, which features an "f" drawn in an s-loop with dots in each cupped space of the letterform--very yin-yangish. And as we all know, yin-yang symbology is the Che Guevara of our tattoo and T-shirt New Enlightenment period.
The Chinese yin-yang symbol is apropos because Fuse bills itself as "A TexAsian drinking and dining experience." How's that for welding words? At the front of the restaurant is a lit display nook holding an assortment of colorful cowboy boots. Opposite the host/hostess stand is what must be several hundred pounds of caged river rocks. (There's a yin-yang metaphor buried in there somewhere. Gather up the blasting caps and let's explore.) A Buddha overlooks the landing on the staircase winding up to the bar. These days, a bar without a Buddha is like a hooded robe without a tonsured monk.
But even with all of this implicated enlightenment, Fuse will fizzle. Why? The vibe. Fuse is such an overexerted "melding" of contrived urban nightclub ain't-we-hipness that you feel compelled to marshal a chopstick to pry the tongue out of Fuse management's cheek to keep them from permanently fusing together. They can't be serious. Can they?
The setting: stained concrete floors, dark dining nooks, flickering votives, velour-ish banquettes, concrete posts done up in black structural corsets of bolted steel ribbons and suspenders and lots of gauzy sheers wavering like wispy gowns rustled by heavy breathing. Euro-throb and syntho-thump pulses through the sound system. And lots of metal: from brushed steel stair handrails with steel cable support rails to brushed metal chairs. Upstairs resides a bamboo wall and a bamboo water garden patio. Steel, bamboo, Buddha, concrete, sheers, techno-bump. Fuse is an industrial koan tease. So where's the wink? And once the thick fog of German car key trollers and poon hounds lifts (as it inevitably will), what's left?
Well, there's the food, which is mostly remarkable on account of the deft touch and clever juggling of balance and spark by chef Blaine Staniford. But it's really hard to eat it here, and there don't seem to be any take-away menus or TexAsian "to go" pails.
Take the ceviche, which is given a TexAsian slant by employing the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu. The mix is simple: shrimp and pieces of tilapia, cured in a bath of yuzu and lime, assembled on the plate with cilantro and red onion over a smear of avocado purée. The interplay--the back and forth--is arousing: sweetness winking at sour, sour brushing its lips on salt. Shrimp are split and fanned, looping into tight knots. The flesh is tender, reeking of intense citrus sweat. Yet there is a drawback here: the wedges of tilapia are so large and cumbersome that it's difficult to manipulate them without first pulverizing the fish with repeated chopstick stabs.
Chopsticks posed problems with the crab-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, as well, but this is due more to clumsy chopstick chops than faulty kitchen execution. Upended mushroom caps, filled with a blend of lump crab, panko bread crumbs and sriracha (Thai sauce made from chili paste) ring a center mound of apple fennel "kimchi" lubed with basil oil. Of course these shavings of pale green apple and fennel aren't really kimchi, because they aren't fermented and the mesh doesn't pack a pungent punch. It's more of a pale attempt to help the sriracha shoehorn the dish into the "TexAsian" tier (maybe the fennel was from Kaufman). The crab stuffing tumbles out of the shiitake caps when the chopsticks waver. But if you can steady the crab, you'll discover an interesting tweak. Deep down--at its freshest and most robust--crab shamelessly flirts with fruit. This apple "kimchi" simply taunts these flavors. Flecks of pepper add some anger to the harmony. There's one flaw here, though. The bread crumb binding is soggy, muting the potency of the interplay.
But from here the flaws (as minimal as they are) fade from view, and the food just effortlessly climbs far above the faux relevance of the restaurant's environment. Staniford's food is a marvel of simplicity. Look at the farmers market tomato salad: an array of robust tomato slices splashed in soy vinaigrette. And it has baubles. Two delicious caps of goat cheese--one crusted with blond sesame seeds, the other in black.
He does masterful things to feathers and fins, too. Muscovy duck, dry-aged, seared and flurried with salt and pepper, is thinly sliced and assembled as a segmented row stretching like a ribbon across a narrow berm of mango risotto. The meat flashes a slight blush, and it's rich with gamy tones that never snarl. Creamy mango risotto is slightly sweet and tangy, but a wash of shiitake mushroom broth steers it toward earthiness--a remarkable tease that resolves itself effortlessly.