I go to restaurants: Café Fuzion
The first place I chose for my weekly experiment was Café Fuzion, a small Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall on E. 14th St. (Capitol East district). The restaurant came highly recommended by a co-worker, and has received rave reviews on Urban Spoon.
Despite its surroundings- a strip mall with payday loan and rent-to-own storefronts- Café Fuzion is a hidden gem in Des Moines. Unlike the dull stucco facade, the interior of the store is a rich, warm red, with plenty of decor to attract one’s attention, from statues of the Buddha both gold and earthen, to the colourful photographs of the restaurant’s offerings.
Besides my friend and me, there was only one other table of diners on a Friday night. I hope that, as word gets out about this restaurant, it will receive the number of guests it properly deserves. We were promptly seated and attended to, ordering a pot of hot tea and an order of Dragonwings as an appetizer. Although the tea was rather weak and generic (it seemed like a mass-market tea rather than a stronger tea one could easily find in any Asian market), the Dragonwings were simply fantastic: appropriately spicy, with a strong hint of sweet and savoury Asian flavours.
Following our appetizer, I ordered the medium-size bowl of Pho with beef, tendons, and tripe; my friend ordered the Pad Thai. Our meals came promptly, perhaps five to ten minutes after we’d finished our Dragonwings; the Pho was steaming and aromatic. The ”medium” serving bowl was about as big as half a basketball; much larger than I had anticipated. I added a good helping of sprouts (a personal favourite) and a few basil leaves fresh off the branch (literally; I pulled them myself). Both the sprouts and basil, as well as bottles of Hoisin and Srirachia sauce, were provided as an addition to the meals.
I found the Pho to be rich and comforting, reminding me of the best street vendors I’d frequented during festivals in Japan. The tripe and beef were soft and buttery, while the tendons imparted a great deal of flavour to the broth. There were generous portions of all three ingredients in the Pho. Additionally, the noodles were velvety and soft, just the right vehicle for this excellent dish.
The broth itself, however, was the star of the show. It was perfectly infused with the flavour of the beef tendons, with just the right amount of fattiness from the beef itself; not so much that it coated the tongue, but added to its richness. My only complaints were that I was looking for a bit more spiciness, and that the spoon the Pho was served with was much too small for the task. Given the choice of an hour of ladling or a to-go container, I chose the latter.
In fact, my main criticism of Café Fuzion is one of aesthetics, rather than food-related. The chairs and tables were obviously bought on the cheap, and the silverware sets were of middling quality, most likely selected for price rather than utility. Also, there were moments where the waitstaff left the dining floor unattended- a personal pet peeve of mine. But these are minor flaws, easily corrected in the future. What I want all none of my readers to take away from my visit to Café Fuzion is a wonderful visit to an unexpected location, where I was reminded of my time in Asia in the most savoury of ways.
P.S.: As I mentioned, my friend ordered the Pad Thai. I wish I could describe the dish to you as other than visually appealing, but I was unable to wrestle a sample from my friend’s plate, as he guarded it with all the tenacity of a junkyard dog. When asked about the dish, my friend only replied with, “it was great!” A born writer, that one.
Total cost: $29.00 for two, including tax and tip.