Dec. 6, 2002 – East meets West, cuisine-wise, at a new St. Thomas restaurant, Fusion Express, where the menu features innovative dishes that are a coming together of the cooking styles and ingredients of the Philippines and the Caribbean.
Located in Vitraco Park next to Sunrise Pharmacy, Fusion Express is the brainchild of Dr. Joselito Rosal, whose medical practice is at the nearby Doctors-On-Duty. He explains how the concept evolved:
"At first, it was to be traditional Filipino food. We wanted the Filipino workers on the cruise ships — which can number up to 30 percent of a ship's crew — to have a nice place to come and eat and be able to order good food.
"But then, over the next nine months, the idea began to change, to evolve. I wanted to share my culture with my fellow Virgin Islanders. To do this, thinking from the point of view of the consumer, I knew we couldn't have only traditional Filipino dishes that suited specific tastes. So, we came up with the idea of combining a bit of the East and a bit of the West in each dish. Fusion."
The feat required two chefs. Two chefs who could and would synergistically work together in creating this melting-pot menu. And Rosal managed to find them.
When not busy running his medical practice, he has enjoyed the planning and the logistical end of opening the restaurant. But a partner, in Santo Domingo, is the legal owner of the eatery.
His partner recommended a bright young chef, Manuel de la Cruz, who was then working at Casa de Campo, a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic. De la Cruz had some experience with Thai cooking and was looking to move on. Rosal tapped him to be the Western chef of the team.
Then friends of friends in Florida introduced the doctor to Cesar Lara, a Filipino chef there who was at the end of his contract and also looking for a new position.
Rosal says: "They are the perfect team, the perfect match, for creating the dishes I had in mind."
The lunch and dinner menus at Fusion Express "offer beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes, so people have a choice," Rosal says. East-West influences are found in every one. Some examples:
Oxtail in Peanut Sauce (Kare-Kare) blends familiar oxtail with seasonings such as Asian fish sauce, and vegetables such as bok choy.
Chicken Tutti-Frutti starts with a basic boneless skinless chicken breast sautéed in hot peanut oil that then is sauced with a creamy coconut milk mixture delightfully spiked with chopped fresh pineapple, mango and papaya. Toasted coconut and roasted cashew nuts serve as garnish.
Plain grouper becomes Grouper d'Oriente when sautéed with chili paste, red curry and tamarind sauce. Slaw served on the side is a colorful mix of red cabbage, red onion and green pepper in a sesame oil and red wine vinaigrette.
The Veggie Lover's Delight features sautéed cubes of tofu sizzled with a dozen or more fresh garlic cloves, then tossed with zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, bell pepper, bok choy and cherry peppers before being spooned into a bowl-sized fried tortilla.
Those who want to venture into more familiar Filipino dishes will find Pancit. This noodle entree is topped with chicken and shrimp spiked with a blend of soy sauce, oyster sauce and vegetables including onions, celery and carrots.
A unique dish is a dessert called Halo-Halo. Spoonfuls of purple yam jam, sugar palm jam, yellow and red coconut, and yellow and mongo beans in syrup are ladled into the bottom of a parfait glass. Shaved ice is scooped over top. Then evaporated milk is poured over the ice. A scoop of mango sherbet on top makes for the crowning glory of this unfamiliar yet delicious dessert. It's kind of a Filipino fraco.
The East-West connection goes beyond the food at Fusion Express. Rosal has turned what was the empty shell of a Blue Cross-Blue Shield office into a cozy eating atmosphere. The straw-back chairs and tables and the clay pottery used to serve some dishes were handcrafted in the Dominican Republic. Ceramic oblong green and crimson and square beige and lime dishes were obtained from a restaurant supplier in Miami.
The tiles that adorn the wall, giving a part-Moroccan, part-Asian feel, were hand set by Rosal and his friends. The central gazebo-style serving area, where dishes are prepped before being presented at the table and where drinks are refreshed, is painted a light yet bright yellow, green and blue with an Oriental-style roof over top. In the kitchen, walls are bright yellow, cooking equipment is first-class Vulcan brand, and everything from ingredients to utensils is precisely set and spotlessly clean.
"We wanted to have a place that was casual and nice, somewhere to come not once a year, but once a week or month," Rosal says. "We want people to feel comfortable, to enjoy good food. It's all very healthful."
Fusion Express has been in business since Oct. 18. It's open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Entrees are $13 to $15. Takeout service is available at lunchtime. The telephone number is 777-2360.

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