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By PETE TITTL, Contributing columnist
The Fusion had a brief, shiny, impressive debut downtown last summer. We managed to visit in the early weeks, but then, even before my review (a rave, by the way) could make it into the paper, the place was closed.
I went back in July to see what was happening and could only find a man talking on the phone in the darkened interior.
1823 Chester Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $3.50 to $7.95; salad, $3.99 to $9.99; soup, $7.50; chicken, $7.95; shrimp, $9.95 to $11.95; vegetables, $7.50; beef, $8.50 to $9.50; fish, $8.50; pork, $7.95; chow mein/fried rice, $6.99 to $9.99; lunch special, $6.99.
Payment: MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover accepted. Personal checks not accepted.
Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; beer and wine served; some vegetarian options.
He waved me off. Very mysterious.
The original Fusion is something like the lost continent of Atlantis -- an urban legend, a wisp of smoke that vanished, the Keyser Soze of Bakersfield dining spots.
Eventually it did reopen, but now it's billed as a "Wok and Roll Kitchen" and the bill of fare is strictly sushi and Chinese, which I guess is a sort of fusion.
My companion was wildly enthusiastic about what we did sample on our visits, as is Shawna Haddad-Byers, owner of Muertos Kitchen & Lounge nearby.
She called the new place "a very nice addition to the neighborhood. The manager, Nina, is lovely. Place is clean, food is great." Reader Floyd Hanes also sent me a note endorsing the restaurant, saying "it has excellent food."
And, really, if you discard any memories of what the place once was, it's not bad at all. But the dazzle of the old lingers like a ghost.
We passed on the "mayo sauce fish filet" (do people really eat that?) and ordered pork pot stickers as appetizers ($5.55), the salmon roll ($6.95) off the sushi list, the beef fried rice ($6.99) and the lemon chicken ($7.95).
Nearly everything was astonishingly fresh, beginning with the salmon roll made with avocado and smelt roe. Had we not ordered that, I would've selected the king salmon fried rice ($6.99), which I'll bet is, indeed, a dish fit for royalty.
The beef in the fried rice was what my companion would classify as the typical low-quality beef Chinese restaurants tend to use (not what they use at Great Castle, which is why we love the beef there). The meat had a steamed taste -- never a good thing.
But then the lemon chicken was brought to the table and all was right with the world.
The thinly pounded chicken breast had a sharp crust suggestive of panko breading, though I'm certain it wasn't actually that. Just seemed like it. We debated over the charms of the lemon sauce, my companion wondering if some lemon curd had been used to elicit a depth to the sauce.
The pot stickers -- moist inside, crunchy outside -- were just as perfect (the food came out in a sort of disorganized fashion, but we took that in stride). I became cynical when my companion kept branding various items "the best I've ever had."
I mean, that's the kind of reaction that needs to be tempered and cautiously dispensed.
For some reason they slightly remodeled the interior since June, ditching the high tables that gave it such a hip, modern, urban feel. The TVs on the wall above the kitchen are still tuned to the Food Network, even when playoff baseball was going on as we visited. There was a lingering smell of cigarette smoke in the air, possibly from someone out front. The wine list is pretty extensive for such a small place, most available by glass or bottle, and there's a good assortment of beers on tap, including 805.
Service was pleasant, though we were the only customers in the place at the time, and there was a delay to get the check. In addition, there were no plates brought out with the food so we could share what we ordered family style.
That seemed odd. No hot oil with the pot stickers, either. Our leftovers were graciously packed up for us, however, and the server was as pleasant as it gets.