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Deja Vu Again 

2001-08-25
The space in a small strip shopping center near Exit 28 off I-77 that's home to Fuzion Bistro has had more than its share of identities since it was built a few years ago. The space began life as Fuzion Cafe, which had moved from their original 42-seat space across the parking lot into this 6000-square foot space. The founding Fuzion owners, brothers Hing Kwan Yim and Hing Yip Yim, and Chef Tony Marciante created something unique to the booming Lake Norman area: fun cuisine with big flavors in a small space. The cuisine was a mix of Chinese, Thai, Italian, Cajun, and Creole, something different from what the chain restaurants were offering. Fuzion's immediate success led the owners to move across the parking lot into the 200-seat space which came with a larger kitchen and a pizza oven. Times were good and Fuzion became one of the places at the lake. Then, Art Sabates, the owner of the shopping center, took over and operated Fuzion Cafe until the space was bought by Nick LaVecchia in the spring of 2000. LaVecchia remodeled it with fish art, vibrant colors, and opened up the bar area. This became his second Charlotte area LaVecchia's Seafood Grill. But after a year, in May of 2001, LaVecchia's left the lake location. In June 2001, Fuzion Bistro opened. The majority partners are Bobby and Beth Cashion, former investment bankers. Bobby Cashion and Bo McDonald, life long friends, grew up together in the Lake Norman area. New co-owner and General Manager Bo McDonald, who also worked at Fuzion Cafe from the beginning, says, "Art (Sabates) had been a silent partner at Fuzion Cafe. Then there were some legal issues that lead to Art owning it by himself. In September 1999 when Art assumed ownership, Scott Hollingsworth was the executive sous chef. Now he (Hollingsworth) is co-owner and Executive Chef. After Nick bought the space we made inquiries about purchasing the business back." Continues McDonald, "You have got to know your customers and their expectations. There is a different attitude here. This is not like downtown Charlotte. It is a laid back group of folks. They want to relax whether they are in a coat and tie or a t-shirt. And that's the attitude. We want people to come to dinner no matter what they're wearing -- whether they are in a coat or a t-shirt. It doesn't matter. Also, people here are price conscious. It is a value driven market, even though there are a lot of wealthy people here. They want to say, 'That was a great meal for a great price' and meanwhile we'll deliver a good dining experience." Opening the door of Fuzion Bistro, one is struck by a sameness with a difference. The mellow color palate has returned. A reminder of LaVecchia's is the fish tank near the entrance. Tables are set with linen but have butcher paper on top. Two corner booths, now referred to as family tables, seat seven or eight and are usually occupied. Families and groups of friends dominate the living room. Oddly, the area outside the rear wall of windows has yet to be landscaped. When Fuzion Bistro opened, the name included and Wine Bar, but the owners have moved away from that. Says owner Beth Cashion, "We wrestled around with that. It is not a wine bar. We're more of a neighborhood place, a family place." Indeed, the wine list, dominated by American wine, is not exceptionally lengthy or in depth. The white wine section, in fact, is only delimited by two categories: Chardonnay and "other whites." In the kitchen are Scott Hollingsworth, executive chef and co-owner, who spent his time between Fuzion Cafe and Fuzion Bistro at the Harris Grille, and Executive Sous Chef Robbie Nichols, who most recently worked at Pewter Rose. On the menu are a dozen dishes from the former Fuzion Cafe, which cover a lot of geographical ground: fried calamari and Thai peanut and marinara sauce ($8.95); grilled chicken satay with angle hair pasta ($6.95); Thai chicken pizza with shredded carrots, shiitake mushrooms, mandarin oranges, and mozzarella cheese ($7.95); a 14-ounce grilled Hawaiian marinated rib-eye with roasted garlic mashed potatoes ($18.95); blackened Chilean sea bass on maque choux (market); and Fuzion's spicy blast with bow tie pasta, tasso ham, shiitake mushrooms, sweet peppers, corn, and gulf shrimp in a tomato sauce ($14.95). In addition to these selections are entrees, apps, and lighter fare that changes approximately every six to eight weeks plus daily specials. Of these I tried the divine North Carolina Crab Cakes with roasted corn relish and spicy tartar sauce. The crab cakes were Baltimore styled, soulfully filled with succulent crab. Also good was the seared ahi tuna which kicks with a fiery bite of togarashi (a Japanese chile), but cooled with a sprightly jicama slaw. The complimentary (with entree) salad of "wild and gathered greens" was not tossed before serving and some sprigs were drenched in a balsamic vinaigrette while others had none -- a minor flaw to correct. A little more confusing was one of the entrees. The pan-fried trout sat astride a huge mound of cheesy cheddar grits flicked with bits of poblano chile. The mild fish was then saturated with an oppressive tasso ham gravy. Overall the tastes were not complimentary and texture was lacking. The fresh tasting salmon entree was better, enlivened by shredded wontons, but suffered a dullard sidekick of lemon basmati rice. I watched the children at the neighboring table as their eyes grew wide when artfully presented desserts were set before them. I was prepared to be seduced by the Banana Foster set before me, but the sugary sauce had gone one step beyond caramelized to burn. Place this in the room for improvement category, too. Fusion cuisine was a style of the 90s. Nowadays this New Eclecticism has given way to Med Rim, New Latino, and New American. In any case, chefs' creativity with global cooking styles and ingredients will define what Americans eat this century. Fuzion's new group of owners seem to understand what the people at Lake Norman want. Prices are far less than what you find in the heart of Charlotte. Entrees, with salad, range from $13.95 to $21.95 for a eight-ounce filet mignon. Dishes are served in prodigious portions, too. Service is pleasant, in a laid back manner -- you may have to resort to pouring your own wine. Owner Bo McDonald, on the other hand, is there to greet people by name and exudes friendliness. A nice touch -- it's like deja vu all over again.

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