Asian fusion

There are no mountain ranges in West Bloomfield, no misty peaks from which to meditate on the meaning of things. But heading west on Maple to Haggerty Road, the hungry pilgrim hangs a right and ascends to a summit of culinary delight. It’s a cozy destination called the Eurasian Grill (essentially pan-Asian and offering such dishes as “Buddhist Island” and “Monk’s Bowl”), though it’s not on some monastic, ascetic trip. Quite the contrary!

Just inside the pristine glass entryway, there’s the timeless sound of John Coltrane’s tenor sax on the sound system (says owner David Lum, with great enthusiasm, “That’s because I’m a great jazz fan.”). And right up front, near full-length windows that let in the soft afternoon light, there’s an ample bar with an impressive wine selection and the immediate impact of a coolly minimal decor.

Founded four years ago by Lum, a veteran master of international cuisine, the Grill is just the latest expression of one man’s relentlessly fertile imagination. For 22 years, Lum was the driving force behind the Rickshaw Inn (formerly at Maple and Orchard Lake roads), a legendary metro-Detroit purveyor of classic Chinese dining. But, as the Tao reminds us, all things must pass. And Lum in his lifetime has seen North American ideas about food change dramatically:

“I started out in the ’50s. I was a kid, 12 or 13 years old … can’t speak English. But my father’s cousin owned a restaurant in Toronto, so I went to work there after school. Nobody eat Chinese food in those days, just a little bit. You couldn’t even buy egg roll skin — you had to make it. I bet you I’m the only guy in Detroit who knows how to make egg roll skin, in a wok.”

Intensely cross-cultural in his approach, Lum glows with pride at the Grill’s menu featuring a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Italian and French approaches to cooking, with such customer faves as Polynesian roast duck (in an Asian-star anise sauce), rickshaw steak, salmon teriyaki, yellow-fin tuna (with sushi sauce) and veal medallions. And he’s equally proud of the talents of his adventurous young chef, Michael Fung, whom he started teaching to cook when Fung was 15 years old: “He was a troubled kid from Los Angeles, with a lot of anger, and his mother was my partner … but just last year he started taking charge of the kitchen.”

Fung, 26, says he “ grew up in restaurants … first it was just busing tables. Then slowly I was waiting on tables, then bartending … ”

He now invents dishes from a range of inspirations and sources: “from books, TV and just my imagination. It’s like art — you put things together and see where you go from there — you experiment, but you don’t want to overpower the food. Basically, you need a good sauce to combine with it. In cooking, sauce is the final touch.”

Lum adds, “To be a good cook, you have to like to eat and be really interested in food. But it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are, if you don’t have high-quality meat, you can’t do it.”

The principle of interaction — a dynamic interplay of ingredients perhaps best symbolized by the ancient Chinese concepts of yin and yang — gets embodied at Eurasian Grill in a dish combining salmon, kaffir lime, lemongrass and Thai red sauce. In such a preparation, American, Indian and Thai traditions come together to produce a delicacy, not a culture clash. And the same principle permeates the rest of the spacious-but-intimate (yin and yang again) restaurant’s copious menu.

After half a lifetime of traditional cooking, Lum — who was born in China “in a village right by the Pacific Ocean” — rejects the idea of “purity” when it comes to all aspects of culture: “I don’t believe in doing anything traditional. I have a mixed marriage — my wife’s not Chinese. She’s Canadian of English background. My daughter is half-Chinese. She’s married to a guy that’s got brown hair, green eyes … I say, ‘You know something, my grandson is going to come from Mars,’” he adds with a laugh.

Since heaven is in the details, Lum pays careful attention to his extensive wine list, an aspect of dining that can get short shrift from impatient restaurateurs.

“I love wine,” he beams. “I drink wine with everything. I’ve got wine that nobody has. If you want fish, today you would drink red wine with it, but a lighter one, not full-bodied. A Pinot Noir would go well.”

And sure enough, the Grill’s selection (by the bottle or by the glass) is a long, lovely read featuring Californian, French, Italian and German vintages.

As afternoon turns to evening, Fung goes off to pressing work in the kitchen (the Grill opens each day at 4:30 p.m., serving only dinner seven days per week). But he comes right back with the menu, offering a taste of today’s fare. I choose an appetizer, the pan-seared pot stickers (chicken, shrimp and vegetables in Chinese pastry with a unique Eurasian Grill sauce that’s part ginger, part sugar, part hot pepper, part soy sauce and part x-factor). I ask Lum to recommend a glass of wine and he pours an excellent Merlot. After two bites and one sip, the combination has me floating about three inches above my chair, to the visible delight of Lum and Fung.

As the daylight fades, more and more couples and parties are coming in, greeted by Lum like friends … and in fact they are, most of his clientele being regulars enchanted with this unique place. In the background, wafting through the Eurasian airwaves is the sound of the Charles Mingus big band playing “Better Get It In Your Soul.” In it, a heap of saxophones blends boldly with a bluesy sauce, a pinch of saltiness and a dash of sanctified bombast. It’s the sound track to 21st century dining enlightenment with, of course, an accompanying glass of Merlot.

Eurasian Grill is at 4771 Haggerty Rd. in West Bloomfield (in the Westwind Lake Mall). Call 248-624-6109.

Read other chefs' stories in Chow (this week's special restaurant collection):
Dish packs another (and another) helping of the East Side’s finest cuisine.
• There are no mad hatters at Fiona’s Tea House, only scones and assorted wonders.
Misha’s is "home cooking" with a rich and moving past.
New Yasmeen Bakery’s Souad Bazzi serves up Lebanese cuisine "naturally."
• Food for a small planet’s working week at the Small World Café.
• Chef Jeffrey Kalich makes Twingo’s a full-spectrum experience.

George Tysh is arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]