East Meets West in Valley Springs
By Antoinette May Herndon
From the outside, the Fusion Grill looks like most any shopping mall restaurant. No reason to expect surprises, but Charles and I were in for one.
At first navigating the bistro was a foreign affair, figuring out the drill a travel adventure. Not quite culture shock—we didn’t need a passport, much less a Say It In Mongolian tip sheet, but still there was the excitement of a new and exotic place where nothing is quite as you expect it to be.
I enjoyed the rush I got from checking out the habitués, searching for clues. Just what was the protocol? Should we wait to be seated? Some seemed to be going directly to booths of their own selection. Others were walking right up to the buffet line.
Several people selected from menus, but more seemed to opt for the buffet. They moved rapidly along ladling a variety of foods and sauces into a single bowl.
A long line of offerings spanned the length of the room. At the end. each person handed her or his bowl to the chef who then poured the contents onto a fiery hot slab, stirred several times and then scooped the food and juices back into the bowl.
It was a busy night, the line moved briskly. We stood uncertainly in the doorway as people moved in and around us. They were clearly old timers, many speaking a language strange to me. Was it Mongolian? I felt a rush of excitement, like we’d suddenly stepped into another world.
waitress must have noticed our confusion and came forward, leading us to a table. Menus quickly appeared with lots of enticing selections. Though a Mongolian barbecue, the Fusion Grill also features Chinese dishes. Charles selected a perennial favorite, Mu Shu Pork ($8.25) with a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup ($1.50). He was delighted.
I decided to brave the Mongolian grill. I’d hardly joined it when five more people stepped in behind me. They all seemed to know exactly what they wanted. I was overwhelmed. It all looked good but the whole thing had to go into one bowl. I wanted everything. By the time I reached the chef, my bowl was overflowing. It reduced slightly on the grill, but nevertheless I returned to our booth with a very full bowl.
It was all good, very good, but a little overwhelming. Later we observed others coming back to their tables with less food, more selective choices. Then we saw them going back later for other combinations. These were the real aficionados. They knew what they were doing.
Charles and I were delighted with our dinners but I, at least, went home a little dizzy from the experience. We were eager to go back. This time, Charles wanted to try the grill and I wanted to try it again—with a little more grace and discretion. It wasn’t a life choice thing, I told myself. I would go slow and make several trips. After all, the menu said “all you can eat.” I could go back again.
Charles’s daughter, Marion, went with us the next time. She’s been around, sophisticated—knows the Mongolian grill game.
Following her lead, I went slowly. This time I selected the lamb (yummy), shrimp, (tender and tasty) noodles, lots of peas, onions and tiny ears of corn—although there were many, many other things from which to choose.
The final major choice was the sauce to put on it. There were three. I took the middle road, choosing the fusion mix. This consisted of one teaspoon teriyaki, one of oil, one vinegar, one sugar sauce, one wine, three ginger sauce and one of sesame oil. I totally recommend it.
We all loved the fusion grill, savoring our individual selections. The choice also included soup, rice and an appetizer. For guests from three to ten years old, the price is 85 cents per year. Cute! The tab is $10.95 for those 11 to 54, and $9.95 for the rest of us. We could have gone back for more, of course, but didn’t. We were way too full. Kirin Ichiban beer ($3.50) was a perfect compliment to the spicy fusion.
Naturally, we all dove into our fortune cookies. Mine read, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU CHOOSE. Not too profound in a place where everything’s delicious. There are no wrong choices.
VITALS: Fusion Grill is located at 1906 Vista del Lago Dr., Valley Springs. Phone: 772-1182. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Credit cards accepted.
Johnny Truong greets visitors to the Fusion Grill.
A variety of exotic specialties greet diners at the Fusion Grill.
The entrance to the Fusion Grill only hints at surprises within.
The grill barbecue is the hub of interest at the Fusion Grill.