Munch goes to Lin's Asian Fusion
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Ford Fusion? Not seductive. Ditto for nuclear fusion. Spinal fusion sounds painful. And don't get me started on jazz fusion.
But Munch can't help it -- the word "fusion" has a certain beguiling quality when applied in a culinary fashion.
It promises a delicately woven tapestry of cuisines, combining recipes, techniques and ingredients from different countries, or even continents.
Executed correctly, you get a novel dining experience.
And when it works, it works memorably -- Tamari's Latin-Asian fusion and Kaya's mix of Latin American, Asian and Caribbean cuisines are but two examples.
That's why, when Munch hears the word "fusion" uttered in proximity to the phrase "that new restaurant," the heart starts a-fluttering and the stomach starts a-grumbling. Hope springs eternal in the breast of Munch n'at.
But caveat lector: sometimes "fusion" is just a marketing gimmick. This would seem to be the case with Lin's Asian Fusion on East Carson Street in the South Side. Munch visited with Dear One of Munch (DOOM) a few days ago, hoping for a bit of China, a bit of Thailand, a bit of sushi.
Instead, what we got was a whole lot of Chinese, and not much else.
First, the good -- this is a tidy little place (as it should be, because it's just a few months old), brightly painted, and the rolling windows at the front of the restaurant open to the sidewalk.
This is a welcome feature: The more fresh air that is wafting through the dining space, the less your clothes will smell like kung pao when you leave.
Also good: The South Side, believe it or not, can actually use a Chinese restaurant. For all of the dining variety down there -- French to Nicaraguan, Sicilian to Lebanese, Thai to Mexican, German to Irish, Spanish to Japanese, Cambodian to cheesecake, and all manner of bars, sandwich shops and pizza places -- there aren't a lot of spots on Carson where you can get cheap Chinese food.
So it's not that Munch has a knee-jerk bias against Chinese joints. It's just that you only get one chance to make a first impression. And Lin's Asian Fusion had set a certain expectation, which it did not meet. Munch wanted to channel Munch's inner "Where's-The-Beef" lady:
Say, where's the fusion?
But it is what it is. A good restaurant critic -- and Munch is certainly the furthest thing from a good restaurant critic -- learns to roll with the punches. (Actually, a good restaurant critic would have known that Lin's is not a fusion restaurant from the get-go, because he or she would have bothered to check the menu online.)
Anyhow. Egg flower soup ($2.75 for a bowl, $1.50 a cup), a Chinese appetizer staple that you also may know as "egg drop soup," was in fine form at Lin's, silken strands of beaten egg yolk sluicing through the boiling-hot chicken broth.
DOOM, on the other hand, found the avocado spring rolls ($3.95) disappointing; too sweet and too much cream cheese, and frankly, in this presentation, almost identical to the ubiquitous crab rangoon. The avocado was nearly imperceptible. And by the way, do they actually use cream cheese in the Far East? No, I suspect they do not.
The meal improved from there. Salt and pepper shrimp ($10.50) was handled nicely, plump shrimp lightly fried in cornstarch, seasoned and then joined with rice and vegetables. DOOM was concerned when the "basil tofu" ($8.25) came out flash-fried, but Lin's offered to replace the dish with steamed tofu in place of the fried stuff, and it made a big difference.
DOOM would have appreciated a warning about the hot peppers in the meal, though, and that seems fair, considering the dish wasn't denoted as one of the spicier menu options.
From a neighborhood development standpoint, it's a better use of retail space than what had been there before, a massage therapy center and medical building, with a fairly hideous stucco archway fronting the street.
And it's really not a bad little Chinese restaurant.
But fusion it is not, despite the cameo appearances of pad thai and bubble tea on the menu (and two curry dishes).
As a great president once said, "Fool me once, shame on -- [long pause] -- uh, shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."
I think those words carry special meaning, especially in these troubled times.
First Published October 14, 2010 12:00 am