POSTED ON AUGUST 11, 2010:
The Right Blend
Fused Asian fare balances techniques and ingredients
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a culinary-based "fusion" as: "Food prepared using techniques and ingredients of two or more ethnic or regional cuisines."
The Bali Fusion Café is a great example of modern-day fusion and has in no way reached the point of "fusion confusion." (Sorry. I had to get that in there!)
It is a delightful blend of Indian, Malaysian and Chinese cuisines with nods to Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore as well.
What one should recognize is that there are overlaps in a lot of the cuisines listed above, with tiny almost imperceptible variations. Satay, noodle stir-frys, roti canai, curries, clay pot soup, panang and others have equal footing in most of the countries in this part of Asia, and the lines begin to blur in terms of origin and "whose baby is it" so to speak.
Having said that, there has been no sacrifice in terms of authenticity at Bali Fusion, regardless of the origins of each dish. It is good and authentic food.
We started out with an appetizer called Roti Canai. Basically, it's a fluffy, airy version of a pancake, almost like a layered crepe. It is griddled to order and served hot with mild curry sauce and eel sauce for dipping ($3.50).
If you have ever had Unagi (freshwater eel) in a sushi house, you are probably familiar with eel sauce. This sweet, salty and slightly fishy nectar is often drizzled over crispy morsels of broiled eel and is a prefect dipping sauce for many Asian dishes.
Roti (actually Hindi for bread) is common in cuisines throughout the world in one form or another. From crepes to bilini, from tortillas to foccacia, from pita to naan and lavosh, every cuisine has their own version of this unleavened bread. In many countries, it serves as a vehicle to get the food from your plate to your mouth because utensils are often in short supply.
Fried calamari or squid, a staple on any island country, was delicately prepared. Sliced in long strips instead of the customary rings, it was flash fried and tender and offered with a curry mayonnaise for dipping ($5).
The Satay (we chose chicken, but beef is available, too, $6) was tender, grilled and glazed with a sweet teriyaki/tamarind type sauce and served with an awesome homemade peanut sauce for dipping. The sauce has great flavor and texture and a nice chili backbite.
My wife made dinner of a couple more appetizers -- homemade Singapore-style crab cakes and Pork and Shrimp Pot Stickers. The crab cakes were tasty and crisp; although she missed the chunks of crab associated with the Maryland version. These were appetizer-sized and chunks would have made them fall apart during cooking ($5). Still the flavor profile was very good.
The pot stickers were wrapped in a spinach won-ton wrapper (a first for me) filled with an excellent shrimp and pork filling, pan seared golden on the bottom, which is what is supposed to happen, and served with eel sauce. ($5)
A bowl of egg drop soup was next. Owner Richard Touma assured us it had just been made, and it was rich, steamy and full-bodied. The egg was tender and plentiful, and the broth, presumably chicken, was very flavorful and laced with fresh corn kernels. It was one of the options, along with a house salad, that came with my entrée.
Nasi Lemak is a traditional Malaysian dish consisting of a number of components. I was assured it is the most authentic item on the entire menu. Chicken in a Malaysian chili-based sauce, coconut milk flavored rice, hard-cooked eggs, fried peanuts, cucumber slices and crispy fried anchovy and onion strips. I was told that it is classically eaten, and best, if you cut it up and mix it all together, which I did.
It was fabulous. The sum of all of them together far exceeded individual flavors of each; although, individually, they were good as well. One of the few things on my "not so favorite" list is anchovies, but they were an excellent addition to the whole dish. And at $8 for the dish and the soup, it was an incredible bargain!
On another visit, I sampled a Malay noodle dish called Dry Curry Chicken Mee ($8). Mee essentially means noodles. An excellent dish with great flavors, this is a dry curry, not the saucy version one generally expects from perhaps a Thai or Indian curry. It had lots of nice pieces of crispy chicken, an excellent red curry flavor, bean sprouts, cucumber slices and fresh mint. This time, I chose the salad option, which is lightly coated with a house made Sesame/Ginger dressing.
Plain iceberg lettuce could be replaced with something a little more exciting, but the crisp, fried won-ton strips and dressing made it very palatable in spite of that minor shortcoming.
When owner Richard Touma and his wife Kuan first opened Bali, their goal was to bring Malaysian food and flavors to Tulsa. As the menu developed, and they began to tap Kuan's multi-cultural experience as a Catering and Banquet Chef in Malaysia, the menu evolved into what it is today.
A bit of an unlikely pair -- he from Lebanon, she from Malaysia -- they make the perfect restaurant team. They met while she was the General Manager of The Emperor Buffet where he was a customer, when her boss played match-maker. And it's been love and food love right from the start.
Richard's great customer skills make the front of the house a diner's paradise. How's this for attention to detail? As I was sort of squinting over the menu at one point, he offered me a pair of reading glasses and a small flashlight that he keeps around for folks with old eyes like me. That's attention to detail and excellent customer service.
His patient explanation of menu items and personal recommendations were refreshing. Touma knows his menu and the ingredients of each dish and steered us in the right direction all the way. He takes the time with every customer and goes into great detail about each item he is asked about.
At the same time, Kuan's culinary experience and expertise ensures the food lives up to the front-of-the-house experience. She is attentive to flavor and taste, highly organized (as evidenced by the fact that she and one assistant do it all) and never compromises the authenticity of a dish. Her son is also an integral part of the operation and maintains the same excellent customer service standards that Touma and his mom bring to the place.
Born of a constant and evolving melding of different cuisines from a variety of cultures as well as geographical and historical boundaries, fusion is now even more prevalent than ever before thanks to our global mind set and hunger for all things new and different.
Bali is rated as one of the top restaurants on Trip-Advisor and is quickly becoming a favorite among Tulsa residents as well. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
The Bali Fusion Café
6808 S. Memorial Ave.
HOURS: Monday--Thursday 11am-2:30pm and 4:30--9pm; Friday, Saturday 11am--10pm; Sunday 11am--9pm
Service **** 1/2
Food **** 1/2
Atmosphere *** 1/2
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