Sushi came easy to me. In no manner, whatsoever, did I have to be prodded or poked; cajoled or convinced to give it a try.
Nope. I was a fan of sushi long before it became the fashionable and trendy worldwide craze it has since evolved into. I'm talking the days when most viewed this raw fish oddity called sushi as belonging in a bait shop fridge as opposed to a dinner plate.
A lot has changed since then, but not my enjoyment of sushi. I've eaten it wherever I can, whenever I can.
I mean, seriously, how many truly different ways have you heard someone describe the sensation of raw fish in their mouth? Not many I assume. It always seems to come down to, "Oh, their fish is so fresh," or "Wow, they give huge portions," and before long, they all seem to merge into one continuous, fishy blur.
Sure, freshness for me is a huge factor. In fact, let's face it, it's the main factor. Portions are irrelevant if the quality is not there. But there are other criteria I depend upon to determine my own personal level of sushi satisfaction.
For one, I like a good presentation. You can call me a food snob all you like, but I believe food is a feast of senses, and feel a haphazard presentation is the omission of a key element; one to which the value of cannot be over-emphasized.
Another key element is creativity. I love a chef who is willing to take chances with his menu - go out on a limb and extend the boundaries of the norm to bring you new and exciting taste sensations; a fresh twist to an old friend you could say. Be it with color or unexpected ingredients, creativity is always a plus in my book.
Of specific importance to me; particularly a menu item as delicate as sushi, is a balance of flavors and variety of textures intermingling in a harmonic blend. I love the intersections where bold and subtle notes collide in unison.
Recently, the owners of Fusion Fire, Frank and Vivian Dominick, had created what they term, the "Thursday Night Sushi Club" and invited me down for a try. On these special evenings, their chef prepares a one-off menu for that night, only with five or six offerings on one plate to sample in one sitting. So, Thursday arrived, and it was time to take the Dominick's up on their invite.
To begin, I was amazed at the building's transformation. Over the years, the site has gone through numerous incarnations as a variety of ragtag, buffet style restaurants that never seemed to catch on, nor last very long for obvious reasons.
It was just as obvious that Frank and Vivian put a lot of thought into creating the perfect environment to enjoy their selection of both, traditional and bold menu choices.
The soft wood tones of the facade exemplified the perfect backdrop to the six stone pillars which guide you towards the entrance. Once inside, Frank and Vivian greet each guest personally, and offer you a choice to sit alone or join the company of other diners.
All dining areas are softly lit and display a fusion of warm and stark counterpoints in terms of decor, perfectly juxtaposed. Visual nuances come in the way of such touches as classically etched glass and gorgeous, over-sized art. Conceptually, I thought it a well-planned atmospheric environment, expertly executed. I later learned that most of the decor was imported from Shanghai and Suzhou, China. Impressive indeed.
Interior observations accomplished, it was on to this task at hand. I had come with the intent of tasting the chef's handiwork in the way of the evening's special menu offering, and the time had arrived.
A cup of hot green tea began the experience and by no means was this your average tea. It became immediately apparent that there was a much higher aromatic quality to the beverage.
Vivian explained the reason was because they import loose tea selections directly from China, as opposed to bulk purchases of lesser quality. Well worth the effort, I might add.
Next up was a cup of miso soup, which actually had a somewhat heavier sea weed flavor than I anticipated or was used to, but it was by no means a negative in any regard. In fact, I liked it far better than most miso offerings which are often bland and uninteresting.
Before I go any further, I'll describe the components of the Chef's special plate for the evening.
From the standard menu there were three offerings, two of each. They were as follows:
Dynamite Roll - Lobster salad, tuna inside with avocado outside, topped with crab and wasabi mayonnaise
Phoenix Roll - Shrimp tempura topped with smoked salmon caviar, scallion & fresh lemon
Ichiban Roll- Spicy Tuna, cucumber topped with fresh mango
And composing the Chef's Sushi Club Creation for the evening's special menu, were five more pieces:
Snapper Roll - Red snapper tempura, scallion topped with a Thai sweet chili sauce
Red Chili Salmon Roll - Spicy salmon & white fish with red chili powder, covered in a layer of fresh salmon
Pacific Seafood Skewer - Tuna, salmon, white tuna, oshinko, cucumber on a skewer with sesame infused sriracha sauce
Okay, I won't bore you with a play by play breakdown on each one, but I will tell you each and every morsel of sushi on that plate not only met every criteria of my foodidude quality barometer - freshness, presentation, creativity, execution, flavor balance and texture - but excelled to such a degree, that it may have been my most enjoyable sushi experience ever. That's a pretty big statement, but one I stand behind.
Me, being a transplant from north Jersey, and having grown up beside, and familiar with, the most renowned establishments in New York City, I say with certainty that as a new restaurant, Fusion Fire Asian Restaurant, by all measures, has set the bar pretty darn high here in South Central, PA.
In truth, in the short time I spoke with Frank and Vivian, it was easily discernible that they are driven people and expect the best from themselves and what they offer their customers. There's no fluff. Both are engaging, charismatic individuals who express their love for what they do by their very approach to how they do it.
"Our story starts with a name! The name Fusion Fire comes from the “fusing” of the various Asian cuisines on our menu and the “fire” from the Chinese cooking style hot pot which has a literal translation in Chinese to “Fire Pot”. We started with a desire to change the perception of Asian food from the processed westernized take-out version to a more traditional, healthy and fresh style. After traveling back to China several times we noticed a lack of the more traditional Asian cuisine here in Central Pennsylvania. We then started to piece together a vision of what we would like to provide to our community. Our goal is to provide the freshest and highest level of ingredients in a modern contemporary atmosphere. You will not find any buffet lines or fried wontons at The Fusion Fire.
Most pleasantly, I came away with a couple of things I never expected to come away with; two new friends and a new favorite restaurant. Cheers!