A show of hands, please: Who remembers where all the old local taverns/bars/dives were? Better yet, who actually patronized them? Anyone?
Possibly the most infamous was the Oak Grove, which one night became an ungodly flaming cocktail and is now a grassy lot under an oak tree. But there was also 2-Me’s on Hilltop (run by a man named Twomey) where a Subway now stands. Urban renewal took out the Old Crow Club on California, US Bank rises above the old Ricardo’s location at Placer and Pine, and all that remains of Jomar’s is a width of dirt on Railroad Avenue where you can pull over and park. There are still plenty of the old watering holes around, but they are somewhat of an endangered species as they are slowly replaced with wine bars, microbrew taprooms, and upscale bars serving 16 varieties of Pacific Northwest gin and imported ice.
A more recent addition to the local bar scene is a space on Hartnell across from the Hen House. Bubba Thrasher’s was there first, then closed and made room for 21 Taps. Jr’s Across the Way followed in 2012 with a kitchen in addition to the bar (apparently Jr’s served pretty good burgers).
A few months ago, Fusion Lounge Bar & Grill opened in Jr’s place. The premise is a new one for Redding: fusing elements of Asian cuisines (Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) with American and Mexican dishes to create such hybrids as the Pho-rito, Pho-nudo, and the Senganator Burger, while also functioning as a neighborhood bar.
Despite their new sign, it’s easy to drive right past as you toodle east on Hartnell, lost in a sea of metal auto repair and machine shop prefab buildings. The parking lot is one of those long narrow ones that passes by a long row of metal doors behind Fusion, makes a U-turn, and sneaks back out to Hartnell.
Fusion’s black and blood-red concrete block walls, easy-clean tables and floors, and a truly goth restroom took a note from the punk club playbook circa 1976, but the clientele was a mixture of locals, auto shop employees, hipsters, and families. (Note: family-friendly until 9:00 PM.) There’s a pool table near the back and a smoker’s patio out the side door. Sit at the bar or one of the tables and waitstaff will come take your order. Service was friendly and fairly fast; servers are knowledgeable about the food. Specials are on a backlit writing board at the end of the bar.
Baller Bowl, $10.99
This was an interesting mixture of a taco salad (deep-fried flour tortilla bowl) with crunchy mixed cabbage salad, deep-fried shrimp, and tataki of tuna, Sriracha and wasabi drizzle, and a soy dressing on the side. The tataki (seared ahi with sesame crust, thinly sliced) was so very much like fine filet mignon that only its tendency to melt delicately on the tongue belied its origins. Alongside were crunchy fried shrimp that made a nice contrast to the ethereal tuna. The soy dressing, however, proved to be very salty, and toward the bottom of the cabbage salad M. de Joie regretted pouring the dressing over. Sriracha and wasabi were nice to smear the shrimp in, but mixed on the plate they tended to look septic.
Fusion fries, $7.50
Femme de Joie ordered Fusion Shrimp but what was delivered was Fusion Fries, as she discovered when she couldn’t find anything but chicken in the toppings. This could be a variation on nachos or potato skins: Jo-jos – seasoned crunchy potato wedges – were topped with melted cheese, shredded chicken, cilantro, diced tomatoes, Jalapenos, and Fusion sauce. Fusion sauce is a somewhat spicy, smoky red sauce with hints of Thai curry – think of it as an exotic fry sauce. It was quite good when first delivered but after fifteen minutes or so, the potatoes got pretty soggy (there was a lot of sauce). This was plenty to share among two or three people.
Calamari is a popular appetizer in restaurants but it is almost always straight out of a frozen box, already breaded and ready to deep-fry and serve up with “our own garlic aioli.” Fusion’s salt-baked calamari was wonderful: thick bite-sized morsels with a dusting of tart tamarind and garnished with fried green onions and Jalapeno slices, this was addictive and original.
Kaliang Fin, $3.00
M. de Joie had never heard of Kaliang Fin and cannot find any reference to it elsewhere, so it may be an original specialty. Korean flour made from mung beans is cooked with water, cooled to produce a gelatin-like block, then cut into small pieces and served in a cold and slightly sour broth. The gelatin cubes had the texture and taste of hard-boiled egg white, slightly sulphuric and bouncy. The broth didn’t have much personality other than tartness and seemed to be mostly a vehicle to support the mung bean jelly. On the side was a small amount of house-made fermented bean & chili paste to mix into the soup – the paste was spicy-hot and delicious, though M. de Joie didn’t really think it helped the soup much. KF (as it’s called on the menu) did have a refreshing quality that might be appealing if one had overindulged in too much rich food and drink, but overall M. de Joie felt she probably wouldn’t order this again.
Fusion Burger, $9.99 with garlic fries ($1.00 extra) and pepper jack cheese
This towering burger, piled high with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, roasted eggplant, Fusion sauce, and a fried egg, was in no way reminiscent of a franchise burger. Goopy and drippy, the thick burger fell apart as the egg yolk and Fusion sauce disintegrated the bun, and was overall luscious, juicy, and a wildly delicious messy mixture of tastes. Garlic fries on the side were on the greasy and slightly limp side, but Femme de Joie loved the plentiful garlic bits.
In an unlikely location far from the main hubs of Redding, Fusion is trying out new and exciting ideas, and for the most part they work. The menu is wisely kept small and manageable, with weekly specials thrown in. Prices are more than fair for the amount and quality of food. Though there were a few missteps, overall Femme de Joie loved the intent and direction of the kitchen. If you’re looking for something new to try, drive out to Fusion and sample their innovative dishes.
Fusion Lounge Bar & Grill, 2704 Hartnell Avenue, Redding, CA 96002. 530-768-1360. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Friday 11:00 AM – midnight, Saturday 3:00 PM to midnight. Closed Sunday. No minors after 9:00 PM. Cards and cash; no checks. Full bar. Vegetarian and vegan options. Parking lot. Follow them on Facebook.