My husband and I go to Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion, owned by Jimmy Li and his brother-in-law Jack Wang, whenever I do not feel like cooking. Down the street from our house, in a strip mall on Grand Avenue in Billings, is the restaurant combining the flavors of China, Japan, Thailand and Korea anchored with touches of American.
The food reminds me of my childhood when my father would create dishes combining the ingredients he had on hand. Dad was proud of his toasted curried mashed potatoes spread on white bread, and cream of mushroom soup with instant oatmeal seasoned with soy sauce.
The food at Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion is much more elevated than my father’s, but the land-locked location and smaller population encourage the joining of cultural cooking styles and available ingredients with more exotic foodstuffs from afar. The nearly 260 items on the menu provide offerings from sushi, curries, noodles and stir-fries to the most recent addition of Korean barbecue.
Li converted half of his restaurant to eight individual barbecue grills, the size of a large round platter, built into the tables, each vented with its own hood. In Korea, restaurants specialize in barbecue cooking where patrons cook their own food. At Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion, Li or one of his staff will cook for guests at the table if they request.
Once Li determines the grill temperature is at 450 degrees Fahrenheit with his infrared thermometer, he starts cooking. The sizzle begins with butter rubbed on the grill to prepare for the cooking of onions, zucchini and jalapeño. To start, Li cooks up his most popular barbecue item: pork belly. It hisses when it touches the grill. followed with aromas of caramelized meat. Li uses a fork to cook, but jokes that a pair of chopsticks would make the process easier.
Grill offerings include scallops, jumbo shrimp and filet mignon as well as marinated items of lamb chops, beef short ribs and New York steak. For this night Li starts with thinly sliced pork belly. A selection of pickles including the spicy Korean fermented cabbage kimchi comes to the table in small dishes. For flavoring, four dipping sauces: spicy soybean paste, sesame oil with salt and pepper, soy vinegar with onion, and barbecue sauce. Though the pork may be the most popular, the filet mignon melts upon first bite and the lamb chops explode with flavorful savoriness.
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My husband usually orders the Singapore-style rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, exuding Indian curry spices. I lean towards the Salmon Skin Salad and Chirashi, a sashimi or sliced raw fish dish served traditionally in a bowl of sushi rice. At Li’s restaurant, the slices of fish are displayed atop a mountain of ice with a small flashing LED buried inside that makes for a striking visual presentation.
This flashy dish falls in line with the restaurant decor featuring ceilings outlined with pink and green lighting, and a bar backlit in the same hue. A paper dragon hangs from the ceiling near the sushi bar. The division between the restaurant and Korean barbecue is accomplished with strands of crystal beads.
The Salmon Teriyaki made with sushi-grade fish is the most popular item from the kitchen according to Li. Sushi favorites include the Yummy Roll, a mixture of spicy tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado, tempura crunch with spicy crab, fruit and a special sauce, and the Spicy Girl Roll made with spicy crab and avocado topped with spicy tuna, salmon and jalapeño.
Sweet endings include mochi ice cream — a sweet rice dumpling stuffed with ice cream, crème brulee and fried cheesecake. Tempura ice cream, set ablaze, and my childhood favorite, fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste, make for celebratory treats. Li said, “When the customer tells us it is their birthday we prepare a special dessert, light the candle and play the birthday song,”
The restaurant is open every day of the week. Li alternates with his wife, Icy, overseeing the front of house and stepping in to help with any task when needed. This allows them time at home with their two children. His brother-in-law Jack Wang runs the sushi bar and his father-in-law, Yu Guan Wang, heads the kitchen. This is truly a family business reminiscent of my parents’ grocery store, and a big part of why I go to Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion when I am not cooking.