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Where Y'Eat: Finding New Phase Of Fusion At 'Kin'

Ian McNulty
"Dirty vermicelli," a hearty rice noodle dish with rabbit, duck and fried chicken skin, a new dish at Kin in New Orleans.

Food writer Ian McNulty on a surpiring new restaurant in New Orleans that's giving the notion of fusion a good name.

The term fusion can evoke the modern and innovative, the new and exciting — unless you’re in the restaurant business. Here, fusion is more likely to sound like a throwback. It’s usually an unwelcome term, evoking the 1990s, wasabi potatoes, pools of sticky sweet sauce and a muddle of flavors.

Today, when chefs go mixing traditions from across the globe, they would really rather you call it a mash up, and sometimes that term fits like a glove.  

But not always. Sometimes you find a restaurant working in a style that can only be described as fusion, but in a way that rehabilitates and revives the word. This sort of fusion can lead to beautiful, even exhilarating cuisine. 

To get a taste for how one of my favorite new restaurants in New Orleans is doing this, let’s start where a meal ended. Let’s start with dessert. When was last time tiramisu really knocked your socks off? I don't mean your old-reliable standby or your sacred family recipe, but one that became a conversation piece at the table.   

That’s what happened one night at the new restaurant Kin. Here, the tiramisu was actually "tiramiso,” which takes the darkly salty savor of Japanese miso and weaves it between the sweet and mellow espresso flavor of the classic Italian cake.

It was an elegant dessert, and representative of the style. So was the lamb molded around sugarcane skewers over bundles of fresh greens and pasta dressed with mint pesto. Or the lunch special of “dirty vermicelli,” a rice noodle dish teaming with rabbit and duck, chicken livers and fried chicken skin.

Since opening in last spring, Kin has become something of a sensation, drawing the curious across town to its address in Gert Town, a part of the city we don’t often call out when we’re talking about destination restaurants.

It’s in an odd little yellow building on Washington Avenue, across from Xavier University, and thoroughly outsized by a cloud of billboards on its roof. In the increasingly crowded New Orleans dining scene, Kin cropped up far from the any restaurant row, without the usual PR preamble and with an unknown chef and owner, the New Orleans native Hieu Than. Kin is also tiny, with an unconventional design inside that amounts of a few narrow dining counters and one communal table built around an open kitchen. 

But in a way, all of this has added to the feel of visiting a test kitchen, a culinary clubhouse for those willing to venture a bit off the grid and forego some standard restaurant comforts. And what they’re getting is, in a word, fusion.

I tried to think of this as a mash-up. But that seems too harsh, too punky a term for what is happening in Kin’s kitchen, which is melding East and West with modern American foodie bravado, a farm-to-table bounty of bursting vegetables and delicate herbs and a variegated palette of distilled, brewed, fermented and steeped sauces and oils from many Asian traditions. It tastes like a graceful fusion to me. And if it always worked out like it this back in the 1990s, well, fusion wouldn’t have earned its bad rap in the first place.


4600 Washington Ave., New Orleans, 504-304-8557

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