In a judicious manner, Fuse owners Rodney and Julia Lane boast "reasonable prices," "comfort food" and "something different to the Northeast side of the Springs" on their Web site.
But let's be clear: Affordable, creative food served by an independent restaurant situated amid rows of corporate chains is not just "different." It's groundbreaking.
On this Cinema Point shopping center site, the Lanes previously ran Hola Southwest Bistro; they decided to shift concepts and remodel in November. From an abundance of fried fares they turned to "new American cuisine," a diverse hodgepodge of casual, classic and gourmet items on a still-selective menu.
Fuse looks savvy: The black-tableclothed dining and bar area sits underneath a stained log ceiling and within contemporary burgundy, yellow and chocolate stucco walls, adorned with local photography. One suggestion: add blinds to the east-facing windows that look directly at Cinemark's neon movie marquee.
At our first dinner, we began with the crispy fried calamari ($9), served generously atop spinach with a tangy lime butter and corn relish. Perfectly textured and deliciously spiced, it disappeared too quickly. Fortunately, we'd also ordered the Strawberry Fields salad ($7), which with greens, strawberries, almond slivers, goat cheese and just the right amount of strawberry balsamic vinaigrette, even an uncouth Beatles-hater would like.
For entres, we tried the cedar-grilled wild king salmon (at $14, the priciest menu item) and Fuse chipotle pasta ($10), each tasty and fulfilling. The apple cider mustard glaze worked well on the fish, which was served alongside rosemary-rich new potato wedges. The creamy chipotle pesto penne, with chicken cubes, melted white cheddar and fine-diced sun dried tomatoes, nailed the mark for spice and flavor.
With only two options for dessert a rum vanilla pineapple upside-down cake or a glorified bread pudding we opted, as always, for the one with chocolate. The croissant anglaise arrived with three types of melted Ghirardelli, including a white chocolate against which I admit a bias, since it's not really chocolate at all, and usually adds too much sweetness instead of sophisticated richness. There are no presentation frills when you break a croissant and drizzle the pieces with chocolate sauce, but the satisfying dose of sugar recalled French bakery fares.
On our second visit, we started with the sweet corn bread with honey butter ($3) and grilled buttery artichokes ($7), served spiced with red pepper flakes and a delicious aioli dipping sauce. We then shared the shrimp tostada stack ($11), comprised of three corn tortillas layered with rice and baby shrimp in a citrus-dominant cilantro wine sauce, by far the most dynamic aspect to the dish.
To sample the sides, we tried a mix of healthy and guilty food: a fair portion of the sauted spinach, garlic and portabellas ($4), and the most satisfying and perfectly crisp french fries I've perhaps ever had. The great American skinny fries ($2), served heaping and next to ketchup, alone make for a reason to visit before or after a movie.
Sure, snooty downtown-centrists and west siders will forever sneer at the land beyond Academy and Powers boulevards, fueling the prejudices seemingly inherent to the Springs' geographical dichotomy. But at least now there's a bold example of a fish swimming upstream to flaunt the stereotypes.
Fuse New American Cuisine
3317 Cinema Point, 574-8003, fuseamericanrestaurant.com
Winter hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 5-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.