Lisa Lee has done it again.
After selling Umi Sake, the uber-popular Asian food restaurant in Cockeysville, Lee scooted a couple miles up York Road, opening a new restaurant, Fusion, in April of last year.
At Fusion, Lee stuck with what she knows best: crowd-pleasing, Americanized food from across the Asian continent. The food is paired with an enthusiastic staff that knows the menu and isn't afraid to sell it, creating a deservedly popular dinner spot.
Scene & Decor From the outside, Fusion looks a lot like a tiny dive bar. With few windows and a small, neon "open" sign, it seems like the type of place where people might go for cheap beer and big trouble (before opening Fusion, Lee did briefly run a bar in the space).
Inside, however, the space feels much bigger than it looks from the outside, with a large square bar dominating the larger of the restaurant's two rooms, warm colors everywhere and a giant chalkboard advertising specials.
When we arrived, close to 7 o'clock on a Thursday night, the place was packed; we slid into one of the few empty tables. The room had good energy, too — conversation was buzzing as diners laughed over sushi rolls.
Drinks Fusion's signature drink list covers most of the tropical-style "martini" bases. We started with a Sake Sunshine ($7), a pale pink combination of sake, brandy, grapefruit juice and grenadine. Though the drink didn't pack as much of a flavor punch as we'd hoped, it was well-balanced and just sweet enough.
Appetizers The fried garlic edamame ($5.50) — soybeans topped with crunchy bits of garlic mixed with chilis — was a tasty twist on the standard Japanese appetizer. The soybeans were hot and tender and the topping added little more flavor and texture than the usual sprinkle of sea salt.
A hefty portion of Fusion's menu is occupied by sushi rolls with cheeky names (Flaming Lip, anyone?) and promises of spicy sauce drizzled over fish-and-veg combos. The Green Decadence roll ($13.50) actually sounded less decadent than some of the other options, and we found its combination of spicy tuna, ahi tuna, shrimp and seaweed salad, wrapped in green soy paper and topped with more of that crunchy chili-spiked garlic, fresh and appealingly spicy.
Entrees The kitchen did a great job with non-Japanese fare, too. An order of General Tao chicken ($12) was surprisingly fresh, sweet and crunchy, with bright green broccoli, still slightly crisp, on the side.
The Korean barbecue ($14) platter comes with either shrimp, salmon or steak (we opted for the meat) and lettuce wraps, onions, kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), shredded nori (seaweed) and sweet barbecue sauce.
We've had more intense kimchi but didn't mind that the cabbage condiment was a little less funky than usual. Overall, we loved the combination of sweet and salty meat with vegetables.
We were intrigued by the California roll salad ($9), which, true to its name, turned the popular sushi roll into a salad. Our waitress sang the salad's praises, promising piles of "real, high quality" crab meat atop lettuce, avocado, tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed with a spicy wasabi vinaigrette.
That's exactly what we got, and we enjoyed it. The dressing was head-clearing spicy, the vegetables crisp and the crab was, as advertised, of good quality. The salad might have been improved by a little more avocado and cucumber and, though it's hard to believe, less crab. A small scoop of rice would have also been welcome. But as simple salads go, it was a good one.
Service When she wasn't extolling the virtues of the California roll salad, our waitress was still friendly, funny and there when we needed her, filling water glasses and bringing new drinks.
Timing is sometimes off at restaurants that serve both hot food and sushi; not so at Fusion. Our food came quickly — but not too fast — and we were never left wondering where our waitress went.
Dessert We wrapped up dinner with a scoop of tempura-fried vanilla ice cream ($6). It was warm and crunchy on the outside but freezing cold inside. This was exactly the right way to end the meal — sweet, crunchy and just a little hokey. Like the rest of dinner, dessert wasn't authentically Asian. But it was fun and it tasted great. Sometimes, that's all dinner needs to be.
Back story: Lisa Lee, the former owner of Cockeysville's popular Umi Sake, opened Fusion in April 2013. The menu puts an American spin on the cuisine of the Asian continent, with a focus on flavorful sauces and fresh fish.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The Green Decadence roll — spicy tuna, ahi tuna, shrimp and seaweed salad wrapped in rice and green soy paper then topped with a sprinkle of chili-spiked garlic — was equal parts lovely and tasty, with just the right amount of heat.
Where: 10752 York Road, Cockeysville
Contact: 443-330-5714; fusion10752.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Fusion's combination of capably prepared Asian food from across the continent with good energy is welcoming and fun