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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Breaking the Fusion Stereotype

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

I’m prejudiced.

You mention the words “fusion cuisine” and I immediately reach for stereotypes. Pretentious. Overpriced. Lacking any culinary soul. Just altogether unappealing.

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Oh sure I’ve had good fusion meals once in awhile. But I’d never admit to it. I wouldn’t want to acknowledge that my taste buds had been denigrated by such nefarious food.

So it took every ounce of willpower to force myself to walk through the door of Café Hiro in Cypress and stay for a meal without turning around and leaving in disgust. Fusion of Asian, French, and Italian? How can this be any good?

And yet, slowly it won me over. The restaurant was simple, no ornate décor with scented candles (yes, what exactly was Dale from Top Chef thinking), just a handful of wooden tables and some random pieces of art that looked like they could have been purchased at Goodwill. A ceiling painted with like the sky, a la the Forum Shops at Caesars. A diverse menu with very recognizable ingredients, except integrated into unconventional combinations like spaghetti and plum paste or Hamburg steak and curry. And very reasonable prices, with most entrees under $15 and coming with both soup and salad. Maybe this could work.

Then I noticed the heavy Japanese-speaking clientele in the restaurant, in particular folks having long been eligible for Social Security. I think there was only one other table out of eight that was actually speaking English. I thought how unusual it was for a fusion restaurant to have a loyal following amongst an older non-native crowd, even though the servers were all Japanese and bantered pleasantly with the customers. If it's good enough for them, it can't be terrible, right?

I plowed through my first two courses, a pleasant green salad with a Japanese-ginger dressing, and a surprising cream of potato soup that was rich but with the right consistency and just enough parsley to give it that extra flavor. The dishes were plated nicely, yet on these simple but multi-colored and patterned plates.

And then I got my main dish. I knew from the minute I saw it on the menu that it was my destiny. Sauteed shrimp with sea urchin risotto. As all of the no-talent hacks demonstrated on Hell's Kitchen this season, risotto can be a tricky dish to prepare. So when I took my first bite, I knew that maybe things could be different with me and fusion.

Cooked with a hint of cheese and with mushrooms, and served with a light tomato and cream sauce, the risotto was full of all kinds of great flavors with a nice level of thickness. On the one hand, you had the slight sweet and richness of the uni. Then you had the acidity of the tomato. And then of course there's all of the shrimpy goodness, which while not as universally awesome as bacon, almost always works well. I actually thought the mushrooms distracted the overall flavor of the dish a bit. But in spite of that, the ingredients came together so nicely with the cheese as the finishing kick on the palate. Furthermore, it was cooked at the proper timing to give the rice just the right amount of firmness.

Sigh. It was yummy. I can't believe I'll say it, but I'm a fan.

I don't know that I'm ready to say that I'm a total fusion convert yet. At the very least, Café Hiro showed me that not all fusion places are the same. So now I'm trying to readjust my ways of thinking. However, change takes time. But if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change...

Café Hiro
10509 Valley View St.
Cypress, CA 90630

Photo by Ryan Young for LAist