Get two cuisines for the price of one at these Valley fusion eateries.
NONNA URBAN EATERY
Cuisine is so much a product of different cultures interacting over time that one can argue all cuisine is fusion. Still, cross-pollinating dishes from different regions and traditions has become a style unto itself in recent decades. Nonna in Old Town surely earns the fusion moniker: The open kitchen and spare, nondescript décor serve as a sort of tabula rasa for Chef Gian Franco Brugaletta’s creations, which tilt heavily Italian, but with hints of Spanish and Latin American. Starters include a simple chicken and vegetable soup ($10) with fresh-tasting bird and finely chopped veggies in a lightly seasoned broth. Tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($18) is a hearty plate of homemade pasta and sauce with a deep, braised meatiness and lack of tomato acidity. On the more Iberian side of the menu, the warm octopus salad ($16) coils a thick, brawny cephalopod arm on a bed of greens and a white alubia bean purée to impressively light yet satisfying effect. For dessert, the flourless chocolate cake ($10) has a similar sense of potency without heaviness, though it was a bit lacking in presentation: just a random scattering of tasty but cold berries.
Must try: The tenderloin ($28), accompanied by potatoes and a varied supporting cast of roasted vegetables (zucchini on my visit), succulently lives up to its name.
7240 E. Main St., 480-663-3296, nonnascottsdale.com
ISHITERU ASIAN BISTRO
Orange chicken: Could any dish be more truly “fusion” than the Chinese-American favorite? The website for Panda Express claims it as “our signature dish,” invented by chef Andy Kao in 1987. Maybe so, but the sweet-tart staple achieves true culinary grace at Aishiteru – crispy yet yielding, with a faint hint of spice to stave off all that caramelized sugar. It’s as mouth-watering a version ($7.95) as you’ll find – and it’s not the only cross-cultural treat to be found at this unobtrusive strip mall gem. Though the gallery of kokeshi dolls on display suggests a Japanese emphasis, as does the full selection of sushi and sashimi, the menu also offers Chinese and Chinese-American standards like General Tso’s chicken ($7.95); Japanese favorites like the house yakisoba ($8.95), loaded with shrimp, chicken and beef; Thai-style panang curry ($9.95); and even a luxurious poke salad ($8.95) with tuna, salmon or both atop a fluffy bed of rice. This was my favorite of the month’s fusion offerings.
Must try: For just $2.95, the lightly marinated, refreshing cucumber salad makes a fine prelude to any of the above.
2017 E. Cactus Rd., 602-992-0920, aishiteruasianbistro.com
The fusion at this Orange County, Calif.-based Asian-grill chain – there are two in Tempe, and Flagstaff also has one – is between Korean barbecue and California health food. The menu is limited: angus beef, chicken or tofu, flame-broiled and served over white or brown rice with veggies. There are three sizes (prices range from $5.15 to $10.05); the largest comes with a little salad and fruit on the side. Except for an array of beverages, that’s about it in terms of choices. I had the beef and chicken combo and splurged on the addition of an avocado ($1.50), and was entirely pleased both by the tenderness and smoky flavor of the grilled meats, and by the size, speed and variety of the meal. The sauces offered at Flame Broiler are dubbed, straightforwardly, “Hot Sauce,” “Hot Hot Sauce” and “Triple Hot” – which is, as the signage helpfully notes, “Our Hottest Sauce.” I was less taken with the hoisin-like “Magic Sauce,” which had a medicinal finish. Not so hot.
Must try: The organic tofu ($5.35 for a mini bowl), broiled just like the meat, is a light but still tasty variation.
Two Tempe locations, 480-961-7776, flamebroilerusa.com
The chic appointments here have a French look, and the menu describes itself as “French-American style dishes,” but the culinary DNA ranges more broadly than that. Exhibit A: chef’s choice pasta ($18), which on our visit was handmade linguine in a vigorous Pomodoro sauce with locally sourced carrots. In other words, the fusion here isn’t just Gallic and Yank. The influences extend to Italian, Asian – in the form of delightful miso-glazed beef skewers ($7) – and even Caribbean, in the form of roasted plantains ($4). The Vogue Burger ($11) showcases the bistro’s syncretic ambitions, topping a Black Angus patty with blue cheese, bacon and a sweet chutney for a riot of flavors that settles into symphonic harmony. The filet mignon ($27) in a red wine sauce with green beans and under-seasoned au gratin potatoes is more restrained, and to me less interesting. There was a fine scorched roof on the crème brûlée ($6), beneath which dwelt a more custardy but no less delicious version of the dessert.
Must try: From the starters menu, the crab cake ($13) enchants not only with its rich blue crab meat and red pepper remoulade, but with the mushroom-stuffed puff pastry that comes alongside – earth and sea in delectable balance.
15411 W. Waddell Rd., Surprise, 623-544-9109, voguebistro.com
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