Loading...
Chinese Cuisine

Eat This Now: Dragons' Whiskers Salad + Specialty Vegetables at Cafe Fusion

Comments (0)

By

Thu, May 17, 2012 at 8:03 AM
click to enlarge Dragon's whiskers salad at Cafe Fusion - LINDA BURUM
  • Linda Burum
  • Dragon's whiskers salad at Cafe Fusion

It's a great time to eat at Café Fusion. May officially kicks off dragons' whiskers salad season at the eight-year-old Taiwanese restaurant, and it also marks the seasonal arrival of locally grown baby bamboo shoots, yam leaves and other produce you rarely see elsewhere.

The restaurant attained cult status among vegetable-loving Taiwanese way before locavore and farm-to-table became overused menu buzzwords and now its phones are just getting slammed. "Our regulars call in to find out when we'll start serving the dragons' whiskers dish, it's a big favorite" says owner Arthur Chen.

The salad's main ingredient, young chayote squash vine leaves -- along with the delicate tendrils that give the dish its name -- start appearing irregularly toward the end of April. Chef Randy Li dresses them in a light vinaigrette of sesame oil touched with cilantro and a faint zap of hot chile.

Like dry-farmed summer peaches or dead ripe tomatoes, the optimal harvest time for the infant vines is fleeting. "We get them from Yao Cheng farm, a certified farmers market grower near Camarillo," Chen says.

Chen's various pre-restaurateur careers have given him an octopus-like reach into the world of niche Asian farmers. "My first job in L.A. was a logistics manager at the Los Angeles Central Produce Market (meaning setting up delivery channels for growers) and before that I owned Asian supermarkets in the Dallas area after Texas A&M business graduate school."

click to enlarge Three cup chicken at Cafe Fusion - LINDA BURUM
  • Linda Burum
  • Three cup chicken at Cafe Fusion

Among his favorite vegetable suppliers is an aquaculture farm. "We get organic yam leaves from a Riverside County-based company that's the oldest and one of the largest tilapia producers in California. They can't use any fertilizer on the land around the tanks because it would kill the fish."

Chen not only loves serving food, eating food and talking about food, he loves sharing every aspect of what he's learned about it over the years. His short food segments produced for ETTV, offer insights into restaurants plus informative tours to local farming operations and wholesale produce and seafood markets.

Don't worry when you don't see the seasonal vegetables on the English menu (many are written in Chinese on wall signs). Most guests put themselves in Chen's hands, simply asking him what he recommends (the English menu also lacks pork kidneys in wine, duck tongues and other organ meats that are felt some might find unsavory).

click to enlarge Pork-rib soup at Cafe Fusion - LINDA BURUM
  • Linda Burum
  • Pork-rib soup at Cafe Fusion

When beautifully-cooked greens arrive at your table, or when you dig into baby spring bamboo shoots, (available now through October), you'll see why Chen has such a loyal following. The silky smooth shoots are added last to a hearty pork-rib soup so they barely cook. They're also served lightly steamed as an appetizer alongside house-made mayonnaise for dipping. "You can get these canned from Taiwan but our customers prefer the local fresh ones," says Chen.

Throughout the year the restaurant offers such novelties as black cod with tree seeds (manjak berries), a unique cultivar of sweet-tasting Taiwanese broccoli and, in typical Taiwanese fashion, lots of dishes with generous amounts of fresh Asian basil stirred in at the end of the cooking -- the three cup chicken and crispy fried oysters with basil, for example. No matter when you go to Café Fusion, you're bound to expand your Asian vegetable horizons.

Related Location

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Deep-Fried Doritos Debut at SoCal Fairs

    Every year, Charlie Boghosian, aka Chicken Charlie, tries to outdo himself with his deep-fried concoctions sold at California fairs. The man began his arterial onslaught modestly several years ago with deep-fried Twinkies and deep-fried Snickers bars. Seeking ever greater challenges, he took on deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried cookie dough, deep-fried Spam,...
  • 10 Best Gluten-Free Pizzas in L.A.

    Pizza is something that invariably inspires heated debate.  Lately, it seems only one other thing invites such passionate argument: gluten. The gluten protein is what gives wheat dough its structure, loft and elasticity.  Which is why trying to find a really good gluten-free pizza has always been like looking for unicorns...
  • Stone Fruit from Trader Joe's, Costco, Sam's Club and Walmart Recalled for Listeria

    Peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots sold at Costco, Trader Joe's, Sam’s Club and Walmart stores are being recalled for potential listeria contamination. The fruit was processed by Wawona Packing Co. at its Cutler, Calif. warehouses between June 1 and July 12. The recall is nationwide, according to the U.S. Food and...

Slideshows

  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.
  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.
  • Milo's Kitchen: A Treat Truck for Dogs
    Milo's Kitchen, a part of California-based Big Heart Pet Brands, is taking its homestyle dog treats on the road this summer with the "Treat Truck." The dogified food truck is making stops all over the country, ending up in New York early September. The truck stopped at Redondo Beach Dog Park Friday morning entertaining the pups with treats, a photo-booth and play zone. Milo's Kitchen Treat Truck offered samples of the line's six flavors, all with chicken or beef as the first ingredient, and all made in the U.S.A. with no artificial colors or preservatives. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.