The word fusion is one of the most misused terms in culinarydom. More often than not, a restaurant will tout itself as a fusion restaurant when in fact all it does is offer two or more cuisines on the same menu. An Chinese restaurant, for example, might also offer some Thai dishes, or maybe a sushi selection. That might be considered diversification, but it isn't fusion.
Fusion occurs when two or more items come together to form something different, something unique.
El Buda, a new restaurant in downtown Orlando from chef Roberto Treviño, features true fusion cuisine. And as you might deduce from the name, it isn't putting together similar Asian cuisines, though it does work with pan-Asian dishes, but rather a melding of Latino and Asian. The results are refreshingly distinct.
So you might have Chimichanga Eggrolls or Peking Duck Nachos. Or Congri Fried Rice. It's inventive, and even better, most of it works.
On my first visit to El Buda, which occupies the hidden restaurant space in the back of Church Street Station that most recently held Maddey's Craft & Cru, my guest and I were treated to Herame (also hirame) Con Coco, a cool crudo presentation of the white-fleshed fluke that Treviño also featured at his former restaurant in Puerto Rico called Budatai. It featured a coconut milk reduction sauce and a sprinkling of toasted garlic.
I also sampled the Pork and Sweet Plantain Dumplings, little purses sitting in soy, sprinkled with sesame seeds and decorated with seaweed as well as tobiko. Very nice.
Those Peking Duck Nachos featured shredded meat in the middle of wonton chips arrayed like a sunflower. The duck was good, topped with Napa cabbage and pickled ginger. But wontons, even spicy ones like thse, just can't compare to tortilla chips.
Robata Tuna en Kombu had sushi grade tuna grilled just right, cut into pieces just right for chopsticking.
On a lunch visit, I had the Chicken Banh Mi with Mole Dipping Sauce, a nice blend of a banh mi's classic pickle flavors and the earthiness of the dark mole. It would have been a winner with a better chicken cutlet than the hard breaded one I was served.
The space is problematic. It is neither attractive nor comfortable. The side area with dining tables is dark, and one feels set apart. The large bar area has a wasted space between it and the open kitchen. Might be a good place for some high-top tables. There is also a side patio that seems more inviting, even with its proximity to the train tracks, but it was unused on both of my visits.
Servers have to do a lot of explaining because the menu has virtually no descriptions of the dishes. That takes a lot of time. But they needn't add to it by going into long pitches about the availability of the downstairs dining area and bar for private parties, especially after the guest has asked for the check and is ready to leave.
But most of these issues are mere niggles. It's time for this venue, which is behind Hamburger Mary's and Pepe's Cantina, to start attracting its own diners. Treviño has done stints on Iron Chef America and is a recurring judge on the Food Network, which might draw some people in. But El Buda's unique cuisine is worthy of attention in its own right.
El Buda Latin Asian Restaurant is at 116 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and Sunday and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Its website link is not currently working. The phone number is 407-203-8171.