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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fusion Cuisine Craze, Cooked Moscow-Style

MTFusion cuisine at Uley incorporates Asian elements, appealing to the craze for sushi.
Fusion is here, fusion is there; in restaurants around the world, the byword is "fusion." What does it mean, though, beyond the obvious: a blending of two or more styles of cuisine?

Culinary capitals have had native fusion long before it became the word of the moment around the world. New York, with its sizable Chinese and Latin American populations, has for years had "Chino-Latino" restaurants, usually neighborhood greasy spoons with a mixture of Chinese -- or Chinese-American -- and Latin dishes catering to a mainly Latin clientele.

Even gastronomically staid Paris, historically resistant to incorporating non-French techniques, spices and dishes into its national cuisine, has caught the fusion bug. This is not to accuse the French of culinary xenophobia, of course -- any French city of any size is dotted with Chinese, Vietnamese and North African restaurants -- but there is a difference between Asian spices in the restaurant down the street and Asian spices on a French chef's spice rack. One of last year's recipients of a coveted Michelin star is Restaurant Hiramatsu, a tiny, 18-seat, elegant jewel on St. Louis en l'Isle owned and staffed entirely by Japanese expats. Owner Hiroyuki Hiramatsu, who reportedly loathes the word "fusion" being applied to his cooking, nonetheless presents a unique take on classical French cuisine; where most fusion cooks are Europeans or Americans who become exposed to Asian flavors, Hiramatsu trained in Japan and opened a number of French and Italian restaurants there before moving to Paris.

For Moscow-style fusion, there's Uley, whose chef calls his style "d'fusion" rather than simply fusion. The word's play on meanings -- "d'" connoting both the French article meaning "from," and the full word sounding like "diffusion" -- echoes a similar playfulness on the menu. Uley's chef, Manhattan native Isaac Correa, arrived in Moscow eight years ago, never having visited or even considered coming to Russia. He said that when he opened Uley three years ago, "we were trying to do upscale, eclectic. ... One dish on the menu was monkfish in oyster sauce with Szechuan-style pork."

His restaurant remains both upscale and eclectic, though its fusion influences have moved eastward, from China to Japan. Uley offers a full and exceptionally popular sushi menu, reflecting the sushi craze that has swept Moscow during the past 18 months to two years.

"Sushi has become so popular here, it's like a trend by itself, and it's a trend that will never die," Correa said. "It's seen as a way of eating healthy food and eating light. The food itself is simple, and simplicity is beautiful."

Perhaps the best indicator of sushi's popularity is not merely the number and range of Japanese restaurants -- from the upscale Justo to the more affordable Yakitoria chain -- but the fact that sushi is on the menus of even non-Japanese restaurants like Uley and at a range of different clubs as well. Such sushi ubiquity -- sushi democracy, perhaps -- outstrips raw fish fanaticism even in New York, San Francisco or London, and perhaps anywhere outside of Japan.

For native Moscow fusion of the curry house or Chino-Latino type -- that is, an adopted national cuisine that may differ from that of the native country, available widely and cheaply, with a relatively predictable but popular menu -- the candidates would have to be Georgian and Central Asian in general. More important than merely the range -- from Uzbek chain Kish-Mish to the lavish Prisoner of the Caucasus, for instance -- is their uniqueness to Moscow. Diners who spied a Georgian restaurant in the United States would no doubt expect Atlanta-style barbecue, while calling a restaurant "Caucasian" is likely to give offense -- or at least instill fears of mayonnaise-and-white-bread sandwiches.

Once an enterprising restaurateur can find an acceptable way to describe the cuisine, though, Georgian and Central Asian foods are ripe for export. Uzbek eateries may soon be sweeping Manhattan, and articles could appear describing where to find the best khachapuri, or Georgian cheese bread, in London.

But Correa notes that the most important trends in Moscow's restaurant business are not on the plate but on the restaurant's walls.

"People have started investing a lot of money in the interior," he said. "You see a lot of beautifully designed places with diverse menus. People are planning better."

Correa singled out the ultra-homey dacha as the sort of place that would thrive in a hectic, fast-paced city like New York.

Curiously, Time Out New York food editor Maile Carpenter said sarcastically, "God knows how many trees died to suit up all the log-cabin and ski-lodge places that opened recently." According to Carpenter, the sort of rustic comfort that Russia does so well has become the latest flavor of the month in Manhattan.

The recent American trend for raw food, centered as it is in Northern California, might be difficult to pull off in a country that has eight months of winter -- but Correa can see anything happening here.

"I don't think there's anything that won't work here if you promote it," he said.