Food courts make sense in a mall. But when little food courts open in their own buildings, they can get sort of confusing.
I was sort of confused by Fusa/Red 8 Chinese/Chill Gelato, a mini-food court opened by Yolinda Diec in December.
But once I figured out the system, I was so excited about the restaurant’s star attraction — the famous honey walnut chicken — that a little confusion seemed like a small price to pay.
Fusa operated in Towne East Square’s food court from 2003 until it closed in April 2011. While there, its honey walnut chicken earned a following that has carried over to the new business, which operates in 4,000 square feet at 303 S. Greenwich and serves an unusual array of dishes, from fast-food Chinese to burgers to quesadillas to gelato.
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ON THE MENU: Fusa is best described as three mini-restaurants in one, though the approach is not immediately clear to newcomers. A semi-circular counter with a single cash register greets customers. To the right is Red 8, which offers a collection of prepared Chinese dishes displayed in warmers behind glass, much like you’d find at a mall food court. Diners can choose combo meals featuring two to four items, or they can order a la carte. On the day we visited, Red 8 had veggie lo mein, beef with broccoli, orange chicken, pot stickers, egg rolls, hot wings and more.
Near the cash register, diners are tempted by a case of freshly prepared and attractively packaged sushi to go, or they can order from an extensive “kitchen menu” that replicates the dishes Fusa served during its mall days, including salads, burgers, pasta dishes, rice bowls and fusion dishes that combine Mexican and Asian flavors.
In the back of the restaurant sits a colorful case of gelato made by Chill, the shop that once had stores at the Waterfront and near NewMarket Square.
DON’T MISS DISHES: The main reason to visit the new Fusa is the honey walnut chicken ($5.75.), a dish that’s decadently delicious. It features a bed of white rice topped with bits of fried chicken, whole candied walnuts and a velvety sauce that’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory. The chicken’s fried breading is a deep-orange color, which suggests to your brain that it will taste Buffalo-spicy. But the dish is completely mild and completely addicting. During our visit, a trio of diners came in and all ordered a bowl of honey walnut chicken, saying that they became hooked at the mall and now journey east for regular fixes. Diners also can get honey walnut shrimp for $6.95. Both dishes are available from the Fusa kitchen menu.
Also from the kitchen menu, we sampled one of the fusion burritos — a general chicken burrito ($6), which sounded brilliant. It featured chopped General Tso-style chicken wrapped up in a tortilla with rice, avocado, black beans, cheese and shredded lettuce and is labeled on the menu as “spicy.” But it wasn’t spicy, and the best description of the burrito was … general. It was bland, boring and wasted its fusion potential.
We also ordered a burger, curious how an Asian-themed restaurant would tackle such a task. The classic American burger came piled generously with two large patties, which were a little dry but with a nice char-grilled flavor, on a Sesame-topped bun with lots of fresh veggie toppings. It cost only $4.50, though, and came with a generous side of delicious fries — the kind that are cut thin and fried with skin still on. The burrito also came with a side of fries.
From the Red 8 counter, we selected a two-entree plate for $4.99. The vegetable lo mein and orange chicken we selected were no better or worse than any quick-service, pre-made Chinese kiosk. It’s fine for people who have a Chinese craving or need quick to-go food.
The sushi we grabbed from the display case also was surprisingly fresh and delicious. Our favorite was a container that included four slices of nigiri — two salmon and two tuna. It was well worth the $4.95.
The Chill gelato looked questionable, as though it had been sitting there a little too long. It appeared to be a little icy-crunchy. But once served up it was just fine, and the salted caramel flavor we sampled was an outstanding sweet and salty mix.
AMBIANCE: The restaurant is spacious, clean and attractive, with wood floors, red tables and chairs and modern fixtures. Natural light floods the dining room.
PRICE RANGE: Fusa proudly promotes that all dishes are less than $8.
SERVICE: The employees were friendly, welcoming and patient when trying to help us understand how the restaurant worked.