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  • Red curry duck from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Squid salad from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • California roll from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Crab rangoon from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • A steak-topped Kobe roll from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • The sushi bar at Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Chicken Katsu from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Tuna tartare from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Thai garlic snapper from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Gyoza dumplings from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • An American dream (front) and a Kobe sushi roll from Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

  • Nori Asian Fusion on DuPont Road.

Sunday, February 04, 2018 1:00 am

Duck worth repeated trips to Dupont spot

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Nori Asian Fusion

***

Out of a possible five

$$$

Perusing the menu at Nori Asian Fusion I wrestled to decide what to try first.

There were Thai dishes, Korean, Chinese offerings and sushi. But when I saw three versions of curried duck under the Thai offerings, my interest was piqued. And when I asked my server what she recommended, I had my answer.

“I would get the red curry duck.”

Not only did I get that duck, I loved that duck and it was enough to bring me back to the new spot along Dupont Road again – probably more than once so I can try all three.

The bone-in pieces had a super crispy exterior, the fat under that skin was rendered perfectly and it would have stood fine on its own. But when dragged through some of that milky red sauce with its fiery heat, it was magical.

It was a beautiful dish, too, with yellow, green and red peppers, tomatoes and onions adding a splash of color. Those vegetables also provided a burst of fresh relief from the heat as they, and basil leaves, still had plenty of raw vegetable crunch.

The beauty of the dish was matched by several others, which seems fitting given the beauty of this restaurant overall. Its modern, funky design was not only chic, it was uplifting, albeit a little intimidating. The clamshell booth-style seats, pewter-finished steel chairs and eclectic, artsy wall panels make you wonder if you are even cool enough to actually eat there but also makes it the kind of place you want to meet friends at because it oozes hip.

The gorgeous plating made a rather mundane Japanese dish, chicken katsu, look much more interesting, but it was the flavor that truly lifted it above the norm.

The chicken cutlet was coated in super crunchy panko and topped with a web of raw carrot noodles and parsley. On the side was a gorgeous serving of stir-fried vegetables – broccoli florets, onions, zucchini and carrots. The chicken inside the panko was as juicy as I have had from a katsu and I didn't find myself having to slather it with sauce to keep me going back.

The most beautiful appetizer – which also may have been the most poorly named – proved to be my favorite. The Thai Garlic did have garlic, but the focus of the dish was the six thin slices of raw sushi-grade, raw snapper. They were dressed with a ponzu-soy sauce and topped with fried garlic bits.

That garlic reminded me of the canned fried onions on green bean casserole. Combined with the sweet-salty sauce and the sweet, clean flavor of the snapper, it was fantastic.

I had high hopes for the squid salad, too, but it fell a bit flat. It had iceberg lettuce, scallions, chopped squid, mushroom strands and diced chiles. Those chiles were too mild, and the entire dish just sort of felt like a trumped-up version of a standard ginger dressing house salad at a Japanese steakhouse.

The tuna tartare wasn't even that good. Though pretty on the plate with a cylindrical tower of raw tuna, avocado and fish roe, the tuna was not seasoned or dressed in any way, so it came off as very bland. It was better when I dotted the tuna with leftover dipping sauce from my gyoza dumplings, but it's not worth having again.

Those dumplings were great, by the way, with a generous amount of very flavorful chicken filling. The crab rangoon was also a fine choice with a lot of imitation crab in its oozing cream cheese filling.

The sushi at Nori Asian Fusion was average at best.

The best roll was the American Dream, a deep-fried roll with red and white tuna, imitation crab, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber and tobiko (fish roe) with a zesty sauce. It was warm and comforting with its cream cheese and I loved how the bright red tobiko stood out, but there was too little crab and tuna.

I was skeptical of the Kobe Roll given there is no other Kobe-style beef on the menu, and there was no way the slices of beef on top were Wagyu because they were tough and chewy. It didn't help that the steak was cold. It had shrimp tempura and spicy crab inside, and while the combination of spicy mayo, ponzu and eel sauce was flavorful, the cold steak was too much to get past.

Even the standard California Roll was very small and honestly not as good as ones grocery stores offer.

Luckily the only Korean dish I tried fared much better.

I was warned when I ordered the bulgogi that it was very spicy, but that was not exactly true. The Korean barbecued beef had the perfect sweet, salty flavor and it was very tender, but not at all spicy. The spicy part, the kimchi, was on the other side of this bibimbap-style bowl not even touching the beef, so you could mix in as much as you liked. And that kimchi was not up to the spice level of most versions of the fermented specialty and had crunchier cabbage than I am used to, making me think it was quick pickled.

I actually liked this crunchy, tamer kimchi a lot, and loved the vegetable pancake – which was a little toasty and crisp – that joined it and the beef atop a mound of sticky rice. The only thing missing was a fried egg.

But that is kind of what you get whenever you venture to a fusion place. Trying to do a lot of things is hard, and even the good dishes aren't as good as they would be at a place that specializes in that style of cuisine.

But Nori Asian Fusion did a pretty good job.

The same applied to the service. The effort was there, but it wasn't perfect.

My server was pulling double duty as host and she had a hard time keeping up when things got busy. She was very friendly, welcoming and eager to help as best she could, but she had a strong Eastern European accent and struggled to answer some basic questions. She was very apologetic and explained that it was hard for her to translate some things, which is understandable given the menu covers several dialects, none of which is her native one.

Restaurant: Nori Asian Fusion

Address: 2882 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 739-5387

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Asian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Thai Garlic ($8.50), crab rangoon ($4.50), gyoza ($6), squid salad ($6.95), duck ($18.95), katsu ($12.95), bulgogi ($14.95), American Dream roll ($13.98), Kobe Roll ($13.98), California Roll ($4.98)

Rating breakdown: Food: *1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.