While we residents may feel like progress is hard to gauge, we need only step inside La Fusion Cafe to experience it.
The proprietor and chef, Yenh Thivarath, is a 2006 graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, and in the past two years has fulfilled her dream of running a restaurant that highlights her ancestral Thai cuisine.
At only 25 years old, she has also managed to do what quarrelling commissioners, contractors and citizens have been trying to accomplish since before she was born: breathe new life into our downtown area.
An obvious upgrade from the mirrored windows of Just Tires that used to distract drivers at the intersection of Easton and Moreland Roads, La Fusion Cafe is a sophisticated BYO with innovative and exciting food. The outside is modest, but Thivarath has plans to further increase its curb appeal by adding a dining patio.
The sleek interior has a distinctly hip feel. Our party of seven was seated in the sunken area of the large dining room, down the ramp past the sushi bar and in front of the twinkle-light bedecked windows overlooking Easton Road.
To start, we ordered pot stickers ($7) and fried wontons ($7). Both were delicious, but we were a house divided on which we liked better.
Half of us preferred the super crispy wontons with their sweet and tangy vinegar sauce, and the other preferred the pot stickers with their softer exterior and savory filling.
My husband ordered the miso soup ($3) to start, and was pleased with the translucent broth, slightly fishy tang, and floating bits of tofu and sliced scallions. The butternut squash soup ($7.50) my sister ordered was thick and silky with a lovely shrimp garnish that added a hint of heat to the earthy puree.
My sister’s house salad ($3.50) was crisp and cold and covered in a sharp ginger dressing. It consisted of mostly greens with cucumber and carrot shreds scattered here and there.
For dinner, my sister chose sushi. The Fusion Roll (shrimp tempura with spicy raw tuna, $13) arrived elegantly serpentine on the plate. The crunchy shrimp tempura interior gave way to the sticky rice, velvety avocado and soft tuna, making each piece melt in your mouth. The “spicy” tuna lacked the level of heat my sister was hoping for, but a dollop of spicy mayonnaise quickly remedied that.
The steak my mother ordered ($24) was cooked further than the medium-rare she requested, and the onions weren’t cooked far enough, but the teriyaki glaze was so perfectly delicious that it redeemed the dish wholly in my mother’s eyes.
My sister’s boyfriend’s Pad Thai noodles ($18) were surprisingly sweet, and my compliments to the chef for the restraint used with the pungent Thai fish sauce, usually an overwhelming ingredient of classic Pad Thai. This version came dotted with shrimp and tofu, with peanuts and bean sprouts on the side for mixing in if one chooses.
My husband ordered the chicken with Thai curry ($17). I love this dish so much that I order it every time I dine here. It didn’t disappoint this time, either. The sauce was heavenly—thick but not heavy, spiced but not spicy, and sweet but not cloying. It was a major sacrifice to let him order it instead of me, and I was proud of my restraint in not helping myself to most of his dinner.
To satisfy my curry craving, I ordered one of the three evening specials, Striped Bass with Green Curry ($29). The idea of green curry was intriguing, especially when the waiter described the sauce as “spicier than any of the other curries we make.”
The fish fillet arrived perfectly cooked, topped with a few tender shrimp and swimming in copious amounts of similarly ethereal sauce bright with basil. I greedily basted each morsel with the fragrant creamy curry, every mouth-warming bite leaving me wanting more.
All satisfied with our meals, and probably to ensure I didn’t lick the curry plates, we ordered dessert.
The dessert menu lacked the cultural authenticity it had last time I was there. Instead of Asian desserts like mochi (small rice purses stuffed with unusual ice cream flavors), our choices this time were distinctly American. We chose the Dream Bomba ($7). A chocolate-coated peanut butter gelato sphere with a caramel center arrived quartered and dressed up with whipped cream.
Yum. Slightly out of place, but yum.
With its fancy name and a menu novel to Willow Grove, I can see how some might be intimidated, but it is worth a try, and well worth the cost, admittedly higher than your average Willow Grove eatery.
The service is impeccable and the food simply incredible. It is a good idea to make reservations on a Friday or Saturday night, as it does fill up, along with the tiny parking lot.
The Tri-Centennial celebration of Willow Grove has an official slogan: “A Celebration of Our Past ... A Giant Step into Our Future.” If La Fusion Cafe is the future of Willow Grove, I like it. And you will too. Grab a bottle of wine and make your reservations.
Inside, the renaissance has already begun.
La Fusion receives 5 out of 5 Whisks for an innovative and refined menu, right in our own backyard.
Second Helping of Information:
Location – 3 Easton Road, Willow Grove, PA 19090
Hours – Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 to 2:30 and 4:30 to 9:30; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 to 9:30; closed Monday
Phone – 215-657-2428
Website – www.lafusionrestaurant.com
Reservations – Recommended on the weekends
On the Kids Menu – No kids menu, but steamed vegetables and rice can be ordered, high chairs available, no changing table