Ken Leighton 1 p.m., Sept. 16
Korean Fusion Amid a Club Atmosphere at Fuze
I’d noticed it a couple of times while driving down Mira Mesa Boulevard, and always at night. A large black sign sporting the word FUZE on a turret ascending from a building off a driveway near the intersection at Black Mountain Road. With spotlights shooting onto it, it looked like some sort of nightclub, but I soon discovered it was actually a restaurant serving up new and classic takes on Korean fare. This intrigued me. So, one night while driving down the MMB, I made a pit stop for dinner at Fuze.
From the outside, it looks rather nondescript. There’s a patio with tables and chairs, and little else. But once inside, you find out why the folks behind Fuze bill it as a “restaurant and lounge.” The dining room is a blank slate they actually haven't done much with. It’s as if the tables in the middle of the room might be cleared out at any moment to make room for dancing—a scenario made all the more plausible thanks to the image of Michael Jackson near the entrance plus booming, thumping rap and hip-hop tunes blasting from speakers in the corners of the room.
The full bar (which serves a myriad of sugary, multi-colored, flavored Korean vodka-based drinks) and energy drink fridge taking up the west wall round out the lounginess of the place about as much as its clientele. The majority are young twenty-somethings who I could easily envision fueling up at Fuze before heading out for a night behind the velvet rope. This isn’t really my scene, but if it was, I’d be psyched to find a place like this, particularly in the early evening time on a Friday or Saturday. However, if songs riddled with four-letter words or the inability to have a conversation without leaning into your dining companion are game-breakers for you, opt for Korean fusion cuisine off a food truck.
A number of items being served at Fuze are like those being carted out these days via numerous foodmobiles here and beyond San Diego. So far, top sellers are kalbi tacos, sliders packed with bulgogi beef (both kalbi and bulgogi involve rich, soy-based marinades), and the Korean version of carne asada fries—a large plate of fried spud planks topped with a hearty helping of bulgogi and smothered in a bright orange, soy-based, sweet, smoky condiment called “Fuze sauce” that's flavorful enough to be worthy of finding its way onto many of the dishes on the menu...which it has.
Upon arrival, I was of the mindset, why order these American-ized, fusion numbers when there are more traditional dishes on the menu incorporating bulgogi and kalbi? But since so much of Fuze is about offering culture-crossing items, I conceded, dug in, and was glad I did. The kalbi tacos were fantastic. Stuffed with sweet, tender short rib meat, scallions, an earthy avocado condiment, and Fuze sauce, they’re craveably tasty; but the clincher for me were the tortillas. They have great sturdiness and are riddled with toasty, dark brown scarring reminiscent of the ones my Mexican grandmother used to produce when warming hers on the griddle when I was a kid.
The sliders were less impressive. The meat tasted great, but was served on a bland, halved King’s Hawaiian-like roll that was chewy, room temperature, and only detracted from the richness of the bulgogi, which was much better mixed with tender sweet potato noodles in a homey, warming dish called jap chae. A nice prelude to that was provided by a pajun (Korean-style scallion pancake) with plump shrimp held in place by a funnel cake-esque batter, and amplified with squeezes of creamy aioli and Fuze sauce.
It was a mixed bag, but I left semi-converted to Fuze’s brand of fusion. I will for sure have to return for some of those tacos. While I’m at it, it’d be wrong not to get some of those bulgogi fries, which aren’t on the menu, but are so popular and sound so decadently alluring, I can’t imagine why. Fuze is located at 9379 Mira Mesa Boulevard.