Does anybody talk about fusion cuisine anymore? I’m pretty sure they don’t. I think it has gone the way of Continental cuisine.
But Susan Rike wasn’t taking any chances last night as she hosted a press dinner for a new client of hers, Favela Cubana.
The seven-month-old restaurant on the garden side of LaGuardia Place between Bleecker and West 3rd, right next to Rhong Tiam, serves Cuban food and Brazilian food, "but not fusion," Susan said as many as 150 times last night.
So Cuban ropa vieja sits right above Brazilian picanha ná chapa on the menu, but there's no picanha vieja, no mofongo feijoada.
That's not to say chef Oscar Santana — a French-trained chef from Mexico City — doesn't add his own flourishes. Of course he does. He's a chef.
His boss is Marco Britti, an Italian, from Naples, whose background is in drumming. He was Marc Anthony’s drummer, he was the drummer for Jennifer Lopez' album Rebirth, and he’s currently the drummer in a band called Shadows Lie.
Given the popularity of Italian and Mexican food in the United States, you might wonder why Britti and Santana would commit themselves to cuisines that, like all “ethnic” cuisines except for Chinese, are less popular than Italian and Mexican.
Britti kind of shrugged when I asked him that, but, well, a person has to follow his dreams.
Even though people don’t talk about fusion cuisine anymore, they do cook it. I mean, really, all cuisine is fusion. No culture is so isolated that it doesn't have dialogue, as the anthropologists say, with other cultures. All cuisines evolve, and in the melting pot of New York there’s no reason why practitioners of one cuisine can’t learn from practitioners of others.
Besides, you can’t be 100 percent “authentic,” whatever that means, anywhere other than where a dish originated. Basil in the United States tastes different from Italian basil, for example, so a caprese salad here can’t be completely "authentic." I’m sure passion fruit in Brasil has a zing that it doesn’t have here. That’s just the way it goes.
Many chefs still cook fusion food proudly, even though they don’t call it that anymore. I'm thinking of Anita Lo's chicken and Thai basil dumplings at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, or Chris Cheung’s liquid foie gras bao or crispy short rib gold coins with truffle-sriracha foam at China 1.
Fusion food shouldn’t be feared, only bad fusion food should be, and, really, that’s true of food generally, isn’t it?
Anyway, this is what we ate and drank at Favela Cubana:
bolinho de bacalhau (salt cod croquettes)
Ropa vieja (braised beef with olives, onions and peppers)
Picadillo Habana (ground turkey, onions, peppers, garlic, cumin, paprika, olives)
black beans and rice
Camarão a balana (sautéed shrimp with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes)
Bacalhau (more salt cod, this time sautéed and served with black olives, mashed potatoes and tomatoes)
yellow rice and coconut milk sauce
2008 Bodegas Lurton Torrontes (Argentina)
2008 Barco Viejo Merlot (Chile)
Panna cotta de maracuja (that’s Portuguese for passion fruit)
Flan (topped by Oscar with caramelized sugar)
Copacabana: Cachaça, passion fruit, lemon juice and chile flakes