Restaurant review: Fusion is muddled, mediocre

The re-branded Zeno has a full menu, but comes off assembly line cheap

by Jay Boller

Fusion Address: 2919 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, Minn. Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Prices: $8 – $16 ItâÄôd be masturbatory to further extol the cultural death rattle of Uptown, so letâÄôs just say that the opening of Fusion âÄî formally Zeno Café âÄî isnâÄôt helping. The dessert barâÄôs rebranding effort sees it attempting a scatter-shot dive into swank restaurant territory, but lacking both aim and heart. Presentation aside, the above average sushi coupled with a kickass happy hour renders Fusion a reluctantly passable entry into the Uptown food lexicon. A cookie-cutter example of what happens when developers buy âÄúHow to Project Hipness for Dummies,âÄù Fusion is a high-ceilinged wash of New York lounge aesthetic (quilted walls, angular furniture) combined with vaguely Eastern details (geisha photos, bamboo shoots). Authentic elements of class are evident, namely a gorgeous bar, but the fact the sushi bar is backed with a giant LCD TV rotating tacky ads captures more attention. A one-time, happy hour visit to Fusion yielded painfully spotty service. The staff employed a tag-team approach that left drink orders in limbo for upwards of eight minutes and an air of general inattentiveness. Prices, on the other hand, softened the sting of shoddy service, as a 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. everyday happy hour boasts half-priced sushi and beer, buy-one-get-one appetizers and endless wine for $10. (ThereâÄôs also a late-night counterpart.) FusionâÄôs menu is an ethnic hodgepodge. Oven-baked flatbreads hit on the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern palates. Quesadillas take a stab at Latin American cuisine while pastas and sandwiches arrive at Italian and American, respectively. The portabella flat bread (roasted portabella, garlic, thyme, apples, balsamic vinaigrette reduction) is a greasy, flavorful treat, but one has to wonder how a restaurant can sustain such split personalities when itâÄôs weighted largely on sushi. Which brings us to âÄî you guessed it âÄî the sushi. Adorned with sticky rice, roasted sesame and flanked with a nuanced wasabi, FusionâÄôs sushi is actually pretty good. The classic Maki rolls (California, veggie, spider) are forthcoming in their freshness and texturally pleasing, as the loose assembly results in an avalanching of ingredients. ZenoâÄôs dessert menu remains, as does the former brandâÄôs emblem, as the transition is apparently still in flux. FusionâÄôs greatest sin is pretense. ItâÄôs trying so hard for posh pomp that itâÄôs ignoring what it could be: a casual, stylish place to get affordably wasted and eat good sushi. But the transparent strive to be a world restaurant, party lounge and sushi bar, all topped with insufferable posturing? ThatâÄôs as cold, yet undoubtedly profitable, as the glut of other establishments in Uptown put up to cater to the condo-dwellers that have overtaken it.