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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

All in the Name

Fuzion’s eclectic taste

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Though a number of Milwaukee restaurants have recently closed their doors, some areas of the city continue to show resilience. Take Walker’s Point: A few months ago the shuttered Barossa reopened as Ginger, and soon after Fuzion Cafe & Lounge opened in the former Wild Grove Roastery coffeehouse.

Fuzion owner Tara Ali has created a novel menu with bits and pieces from around the globe. The decor has been simplified, eliminating much of the eclectic charm of Wild Grove. The large vintage sign of Mobil’s red logo, Pegasus, dominates the main dining room, while the bar uses a lower ceiling to create a more intimate feeling. An upper balcony used as an office would provide great additional seating.

The drink menu is as interesting as the food menu. In addition to the expected martinis, you’ll find herbal cocktails and antioxidant drinks. These include ingredients like pomegranate juice and liqueurs of white tea and elderflower. The “signature” cocktails include a Brazilian caipirinha that is properly prepared with sugar cane liqueur, not merely rum.

The food menu offers just four entrees, but there are a variety of starters, small-plate specialties and sliders. Starters like Mexican wontons ($8) and crawfish egg rolls ($9) set the stage for Fuzion’s concept. The crisp wontons have a stuffing of cream cheese with turkey sausage, cilantro, onion and red pepper, as China and Mexico meet in harmony. The egg rolls are served in pairs with a filling of crawfish tail meat and minced vegetables. The sweet chili sauce is mild, but the egg rolls pack a chile-pepper punch. The sweet potato fries ($4) are simple by comparison, accompanied by a nice garlic aioli.

The sliders are made with a choice of three meats: beef, turkey or lamb. The beef version appears as Irish butter burgers ($7.50), three sliders topped with caramelized onions, Gorgonzola cheese and butter. They remain flavorful even when ordered well done. Try the Tuscan turkey burgers ($7.50), which are chargrilled and served with spinach. They have a sound seasoning of Italian spices complemented by a fine pesto mayo—healthy does not have to mean bland.

The entrees tend to be more straightforward. Curry chicken with mango ($14.50) is your typical Thai yellow curry and boneless pieces of chicken with zucchini, onion and tomato, served in a bowl apart from the white rice. But while Thai curry dishes usually add white potato, here it is substituted with mango, adding an enticing sweetness to the aromatic dish. The crawfish etouffee ($16) does not shy away from cayenne pepper, which dominates the seasoning. The tail meat could be more plentiful, but the more abundant sliced mushrooms seem at home and make for a creative addition to this Louisiana recipe. The kalbi beef ($15.50) is a standard of Korea. The beef ribs, cut into thin strips with just a few bones remaining, are grilled with a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and scallions. They are served over white rice and with a small side of potent napa cabbage kimchee. This is Korean food at its simple best.

Fuzion has many things going for it: a nice setting, good service and an interesting menu. The concept is also sound, with fusions that make sense (with the exception of a lobster pizza that could use some tweaking). Overall, an evening at Fuzion is a relaxing experience, a chance to savor a caipirinha with a small plate of sliders.

Fuzion Cafe & Lounge 524 S. Second St. (414) 455-3281 $$ Credit Cards: MC, VS, DS Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes

Fuzion | Photo by Tate Bunker

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