My first visit to 5 Fusion in Bend, OR was for a random happy hour. By the time we had finished our nosh, I was smitten. Sipping martinis under the suspended celling of water felt like taking a mini vacation without having to leave the well appointed minimalist space. The attention to detail in the service, the food and presentation is exceptional.
Ordering from the happy hour menu, it was exciting to have so many plant-based options, sans de rigueur tofu. I started with the vegetable tempura, since I use this as my standard gauge for most Japanese restaurants. Is the tempura batter light and lacy? Yes! Are the veggies cooked to perfection? Yes! Is the assortment pleasant to eat? Yes, shiitake mushroom, asparagus,green beans, and sweet potato are some of my favorites. Next, we had eggplant prepared in a style reminiscent of eggplant parmesan but with an Asian twist. The eggplant medallions were deep fried in a panko crust and paired with a rich tomato sauce instead of being smothered in cheese. The textures and flavors made this dish divine!
Owner Lilian Chu and Executive Chef Joe Kim are creating culinary magic by blending flavors from both East and West and focusing on local, organic ingredients. “There’s nothing better than fresh vegetables…just a little bit of seasoning and they taste wonderful,” says Joe Kim (pictured at right). I had to go back for more and lunch was the perfect excuse for more yumminess.
It’s easy enough for a plant-based foodie to hit some great vegetarian/vegan/raw kitchens even in small towns. However, it’s a little more of a challenge to find an upscale dining experience that will make the omnivores rave and still be veg-friendly. 5 Fusion is the perfect solution without ever feeling compromised.
As an island girl, I have a special affinity for tropical delights. The first course was this “ah-mazing” dragon fruit, green apple and pineapple salad topped with shaved coconut. Fresh,bright and visually stunning.
My other weakness is for savory, crunchy snacks- the taro root chips satisfied the craving.
When the plate of wok-fried green beans was set down, I could not concentrate on anything else. The aroma was so intoxicating, all I wanted to do was eat the beans! *vegans: this dish is normally made with oyster sauce, so ask for a modification
My fellow food warrior tried the ahi poke salad served on a bed of mixed greens, seaweed, avocado and won ton crisps. Judging by the look on his face, I knew he was happy he didn’t have to share this one with me!
I always encourage people to tell the chef or their server about dietary restrictions because it can often result in a spectacular off the menu creation. One of the dishes Joe Kim made for me was this curried vegetable risotto topped with…kimchee!
Vegetable maki and vegetable tempura roll topped with sweet chili sauce served with micro greens
Shiitakes and soba noodles swim in a delicate blend of soy and deep umami flavor. It’s like a warm hug, a giant bowl of comfort and I’m pretty sure I could eat this everyday.
And if I was merely smitten before, this sushi roll made me fall in love. Green apple, inari, asparagus maki (roll) with a sweet chili infused coconut cream and topped with crushed macadamia nuts. WOW, wow, WOW! When Joe travels, he says he always visits the museums and restaurants in different cities. His passion for beauty and food is translated effortlessly onto each dish that leaves his kitchen. “That’s the best part, making a piece of art out of food” says Joe. Like Hokusai’s The Great Wave, the components of this sushi roll washed over me and left me floating on a sea of gastronomic delight.
5 Fusion hosts a charity dinner once a month for a different beneficiary and their fundraising efforts have been quite successful. In 2011, they raised over $35,000 for local charities. The next event will be hosted for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Oregon on May 21, 2012. The tasting menus can be altered to fit dietary requests like vegan/vegetarian or to accommodate food allergies, so be sure to inquire.
It also came as no surprise when I learned 5 Fusion had won the “Restaurant of the Year” award from The Source Weekly. You can tell that this is not just a restaurant, but a labor of love. 5 Fusion definitely tops my “Best Of Bend” list and this leg of my Oregon food tour is now complete.
Photo credit: Paul G. Ong