If Asian is your ultimate comfort food, prepare to get very comfortable at Asian Fusion. Just reading the menu with its exuberant array of Asian cuisines -- one fused into the other -- is as alluring as a first glimpse of Disney World. This unexpected shopping-center oasis is a graceful, bamboo-trimmed composition of shiny lacquered tabletops in lieu of tablecloths, flanked by a fleet of attractive chairs.
1327 S. State Road 7, North Lauderdale
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Hours: lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner nightly
Bar: beer, wine
Sound level: quiet
Children's facilities: boosters, high chairs
Wheelchair accessible: yes
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The energetic young staff is an extension of owner Michelle Lai, who lends her expertise as your food consultant. She even comes equipped with a photo album of most menu items. It's eye candy to support her bet that South Florida's growing sophistication will yield a receptive audience for things such as purple rice from Thailand and big bowls of warm Malaysian soup for dessert. Best of all, everything is gently priced to turn first-timers into regulars.
Crispy crab meat with onion served in a crab shell is a good introduction to the restaurant's style, which often uses nature's "containers" for serving. This wonderful $9 encounter is a marvelous destination of crab meat, dried scallops, onions, shallots and herbs baked in a crab shell. Sizzling baked conch ($7) makes a dramatic entrance in a conch shell, jam-packed with butter-tender conch, clams, scallops, shrimp, onions, fennel, hints of coconut and mild curry sauce. Be sure to dig your cocktail fork into the shell's crevices -- you won't want to miss a morsel. And, don't even consider sharing the homemade shui mai style dim sum dumplings ($4) with pork, shrimp, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts -- you'll want all four to yourself.
For the requisite Asian soup course, have lemon grass soup ($5), a peppery encounter of shrimp and chicken in clear, powerfully spiced lemon grass broth; or salmon wonton soup ($5), which is a touch milder. The handmade wontons are stuffed with pork and salmon; the delicate broth carries slightly fruity overtones from honeydew melon.
It's hard to say exactly what makes the signature lotus shrimp ($15) so mesmerizing -- it's really just steamed shrimp -- but a good place to start is with the absolutely perfect cooking technique. The kitchen starts with a big bamboo steamer, lines it with a lotus leaf, drizzles on garlic and seasonings and steams away, snatching it off the heat at the perfect moment. This tasty dish delivers clear flavors and lush shrimp that taste just-caught fresh. You get a full pound of extra large shrimp, as you do in all the shrimp dishes. Other seafood options include Vietnamese style salmon ($15) with basil, onions, roasted peanuts, rice noodles and mild curry; several trout offerings (try crispy trout topped with pickled garlic chili and herb sauce, $13); five-spice soft shell crabs ($15) and steamed lobster with ginger and garlic ($22).
There's savvy star anise steak ($14), marinated flank steak with star anise relish atop crunchy noodle threads, as well as filet mignon in red wine mushroom sauce ($18) over wheat noodles. Pork lovers have a chance to experience refreshingly spiced cinnamon pork loin ($11) -- lean, boneless, lightly fried small pieces drenched in red wine vinegar and tomato puree. In the noodle department, pad Thai ($9 with beef, chicken or pork) is a value for the portion size, but the sauce is light on flavor.
Don't be surprised if you wait a bit for dessert. Almost everything is made fresh to order and all are about $4. There's velvety mango pudding, excellent banana fritters and coconut sticky rice with mango. Be sure to ask for the warm Malaysian soup for dessert, then happily slurp your way through the delicacy of translucent pearls of tapioca with mung beans, coconut milk and sweet potato cubes.
This delectable experience is a delicious reminder of why I fell in love with Asian cuisine in the first place.
Please phone in advance to confirm information on hours, prices, menu items and facilities. For review consideration, please fax a current menu that includes name and address of restaurant to 954-356-4386 or send to Sun-Sentinel, 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301-2293.If you would like to contact dining correspondent Judith Stocks, e-mail her at judithstocksreviews@yahoo .com or write to her in care of the Sun-Sentinel.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times