Blossom Asian Bistro is the place for fusion excitement
Sunday, September 14, 2008 • BY CODY KENDALL • For the Star-Ledger

When it comes to fusion cuisine, Blossom Asian Bistro is the real deal. It's not a sushi place with a few items from China or Thailand thrown in for lip service. While there is indeed a sushi bar with extensive choices, the excitement here is provided by the regular menu and the list of varied specials that don't have Japanese roots.

Chef Richard Zhu, who was trained in his native China, adds his own interpretations to many offerings. That's why you'll find pineapple and sweet peas as welcome additions to the shrimp in the spicy Thai Tom Yam soup ($3), or shrimps and scallops in the miso broth ($6), a nice from-the-sea concept. The grilled chicken salad ($8) gets a champagne/mango/jicama lift while tropical fruits balance the spicy mango chicken ($14) as well as the prawn version ($16) of this selection. (The restaurant is located in Mt. Arlington Plaza, 181 Howard Blvd., Mt. Arlington, 973-601-1848, ***.)

Starters include a traditional scallion pancake ($5), in addition to beef or chicken satay ($6) with lemongrass/peanut sauce and lovely green steamed vegetable dumplings ($5). The shu mai ($5) were delicate little shrimp-stuffed bundles, served with a light ginger sauce that tanalized rather than tickled. We weren't sure, though, how the Firecracker Shrimp ($9) got their name, because they were quite mild, even with the addition of a spicy mayo sauce.

Zhu is the brother-in-law of Randy Jiang, who opened Blossom six months ago in a Mount Arlington strip mall after running a successful Chinese restaurant in Chicago.

Jiang, who works the front of the house, had everything under control when we visited. Though it was busy in the compact restaurant, which seats 55 or so, our whole evening went smoothly. The pace of the food delivery felt just right, our server was delightfully responsive and we believed she really cared about whether we enjoyed ourselves.

The best example of that was the way we were served the sake one of our dining companions had brought along. He handed the bottle over to the server at her request. We were so surprised to find on its return that the sake had been decanted into an attractive container with a big hollow in the side that contained ice, which kept the drink cold. The attractive little blue sake glasses with which we were presented contained slivers of cucumber, enhancing the flavor of the Japanese national beverage and helping to make the evening special. In short, we felt like valued customers, which is not always the case.

The restaurant's ambience is a pleasant backdrop, rather than the main attraction. There's a tiny waterfall near the entrance, tan grass wallpaper and black-and-white banquettes along one wall.

The excitement comes from the food, such as the wildly colorful wok-fried basil prawns ($16) with red peppers, purple onion, broccoli, snow peapods and basil. The sweet chili sauce was the touch that provided just the right focal point for the varied flavors. Portions are abundant at Blossom, and this was no exception, with six giant prawns in residence on the plate.

Another appetite-pleaser is the seafood hot pot ($21), which puts shrimp, scallops, calamari and lobster together with a variety of Asian vegetables in a curry sauce.

We tried two versions of red snapper, each equally appealing. The Thai variety ($17) was steamed in a banana leaf. As we unwrapped it, the scent of herbs and chili sauce rose and mingled invitingly to tempt us. A special ($16) offered a completely different treatment of the fish. It was slightly crispy, glazed with Thai red chili sauce and served with crispy rice noodles and steamed bok choy. The textures offered varying degrees of crunch and the tender white fish was just enhanced, rather than overwhelmed, by its gentle treatment.

Chilean sea bass ($21) benefited from a mango/miso drizzle that suited the mild flavor of this fish. Although spicy dishes are marked with a star, and can be tailored to your taste, the sea bass is so easygoing it will suit those who are timid about their spice quotients.

The roster of specials includes some rolls; perhaps the Dreamy Lobster ($12), composed of spicy lobster salad with shrimp tempura and a sprinkling of orange tobiko for a smattering of crackle. Like everything else here, it offered satisfaction to the eye as well as the palate.

While fish is prominent at Blossom, you will also find chicken (General Tso's and sesame chicken are both $12) as well as meat dishes. For those not interested in anything too Asian, fill the bill with filet mignon in a port wine reduction ($21) with shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini and eggplant. Surf and turf ($16) combines filet mignon with greens and butterflied shrimp. There's duck, too; either an Asian-glazed breast ($16) or shredded in a salad ($8).

Blossom makes a real effort with dessert. Though the items in this course are not wildly creative, they are many steps above mere fortune cookies. The Chocolate Delight ($7) was too sweet for my taste, and a real case of overkill, with chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream. But for those bent on a chocolate overdose, this dessert could live up to its name. A mango passion cheesecake ($6) was just the ticket after several dishes with chili sauce. The tempura ice cream ($5) is made in house. It comes with your choice of green tea, chocolate or vanilla ice cream encased in a crispy shell, served flaming, which is always fun.

Blossom welcomes families and provides a special menu for the kids. The two choices for fussy young ones are chicken teriyaki or tempura with shu mai, a California roll and rice. Both are $8, in line with the agreeable pricing at Blossom.

The only thing missing here is a website. Jiang promises that one will be coming soon. In the meantime, you have the address and the hours -- that's really all you need to know, besides the fact that this is a very appealing little restaurant.

Cody Kendall may be reached at