As you approach Fusion Fish from the parking lot, a catering van parked near the entrance catches your eye. Particularly striking is the paint job: a larger-than-life full color photographic rendering of an elaborate sushi display. As it happens, that’s your first clue as to what’s in store inside.
The van belongs to Yung Nay, the restaurant’s owner. Fusion Fish is Nay’s first restaurant, but he has operated a successful catering business for the past decade and counts some of the area’s top research firms among his corporate clients. He honed his skills at Sono (under sushi chef Mike Lee, who went on to open M Sushi in Durham), and briefly worked front of house at An Cuisines in Cary to broaden his understanding of how a restaurant works.
Nay calls his catering specialty “live sushi stations” — and if that conjures up images of the still-living fish you may have seen being filleted on a Food Network special on Tokyo, you can rest easy. He means “live” as in made to order.
It should come as no surprise, then, that sushi is a featured attraction at Fusion Fish. Or that the restaurant already had a strong following the day it opened in March.
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Nay’s fanbase is sure to grow as others discover the first-rate sushi that he and his team are serving up. Those who find the typical everything-but-the-kitchen-sink list of house specialty rolls overwhelming will appreciate the concise, thoughtfully chosen selection at Fusion Fish. The list is divided into four categories — Raw, Cooked, Fried and Vegetarian — with just a handful of options in each.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll lack for tempting options among a varied list that covers the spectrum from a lavish rendering of a classic Rainbow Roll to the vegetarian Green Hills (tempura sweet potato, jalapeño and carrots inside, topped with avocado, tempura crunch and a sweet glaze).
Traditional sushi passes with flying colors, too. Fish and shellfish are unimpeachably fresh-tasting, and well-honed knife work is evident in consistent (and generous) cuts. Nigiri and maki are skillfully assembled, and sushi rice is properly vinegared and served at the right temperature.
Then there’s the purist’s acid test: Yes, you can get true wasabi for a $4 surcharge.
Sushi is clearly a well-earned foundation for Yung Nay’s reputation, but it accounts for only half of the twin bill menu at Fusion Fish. The other half, as the restaurant’s name suggests, consists of Asian fusion fare from the kitchen.
The widely roaming list scours the continent from Mongolian ribs to Indian spiced scallops, with frequent side excursions to the likes of Hawaiian-style pork buns and a “ratatouille” of seasonal exotic vegetables and fruits.
Given pride of place at the top of the list, the mysteriously named supeu (which the menu informs you is a Japanese-style soup) earns its star billing with fat udon noodles, shiitake mushrooms and scallions in a in a soul-satisfying miso-clouded dashi broth. The soup comes with your choice of protein: tofu, duck (not available the night I ordered it) and shrimp (which turned out to be ample consolation for the absentee duck).
Soba noodles take on a different role — but an equally appealing one — in green tea soba noodle salad, where they’re topped with a kaleidoscope of mixed greens, multicolor cherry tomatoes and togarashi-crusted ahi tuna.
Korean-inspired double fried sweet wings, freckled with black and white sesame seeds, are another winning first course option — if they aren’t lukewarm by the time they get to the table, that is, as they were when I ordered them. Chalk that one up to service, which in my experience can be variable.
I could find no fault, on the other hand, with another starter featuring miso-glazed yaki cod, which arrives beached on a small dune of daikon puree. Okay, maybe I could quibble about the $11 price — which seems a bit steep for a two-ounce piece of cod.
Of course, quality comes at a price, and the fish is undeniably top quality here. An à la carte order of bigeye tuna nigiri sushi (that’s two pieces) set me back $12 recently, and bigeye toro (the prized fatty belly) raised the stakes to $16. Those prices are not going to convert any BOGO devotees, but they’re not out of line given the quality and generous cut of the fish.
I certainly wouldn’t bat an eye at dropping $26 for an encore performance of the Indian-spiced scallops, nestled in a tangle of zucchini noodles and encircled by a moat of kaffir-ginger jus. Sure, there are only three scallops, but they’re flawless, and they’re huge.
Genghis Khan lamb chops are also worth their $32 price of admission. That tariff gets you four chops, redolent of Chinese spices, served atop a mound of sweet onion curry risotto and broccolini, and garnished with a lacy crown of spun sugar. For an extra $6, you can make it a surf and turf with grilled shrimp. No charge for the poetic name.
For dessert, skip the chocolate “soufflé” — which, after a soufflé-like wait of a half-hour, turns out to be a small ramekin of dense chocolate that doesn’t resemble any soufflé I’ve ever seen. Instead, get your chocolate fix with the mousse-like dark chocolate crémeux, garnished with a burnt chocolate tuile and served with a scoop of white chocolate ice cream.
Fusion Fish inherited much of its sleekly elegant decor — plus the open theater kitchen and floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed wine cellar — from One, the restaurant that previously occupied the space. Inherited or not, the setting is well-matched to the Fusion Fish menu.
Turnover in the kitchen in the early months was evident in lapses in execution — an almost soupy Thai sticky rice and a wok-fried whole snapper that wasn’t crisp come to mind. Judging by my most recent visit, the kitchen staff appear to have corrected the course.
Yung Nay evidently had no such problems in assembling a crew of sushi chefs who measure up to his high standards, as the sushi bar has been firing on all cylinders from day one. Even when the van isn’t parked out front.
100 Meadowmont Village Circle, Suite 101, Chapel Hill
Cuisine: sushi, Asian fusion
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Atmosphere: sleekly contemporary
Noise level: moderate
Service: uniformly welcoming, variably attentive
Recommended: sushi, supeu, green tea noodle salad, Indian spiced scallops, lamb chops, chocolate crémeux
Open: Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner nightly (weekend brunch is in the works)
Reservations: recommended on weekends
Other: full bar; accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.