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Restaurant Reviews

Do the 'Due

The liquor store in Naples was a pretty impressive comment on just how ignorantly the American public buys wine: One section was labeled "Chardonnay," another was called "Merlot," and then there was a sign pointing me in the direction of "Other Varietals." A member of the ABC -- Anything But Chardonnay -- generation, I went in that last direction, hoping for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Italian Gavi di Gavi, a Spanish Viura Blanco, perhaps an Alsatian Riesling. New World or Old, I didn't care, as long as it wasn't tell-tale malolactic and oaked to death. But all I found was another signpost regarding our popular wine consumption: NBC. Nothin' But California.

Despite current patriotic attitudes, the general focus on California Chards and Merlots has nothing to do with anti-French sentiment and the desire to "buy domestic." Retail outlets tend to cater to what they assume the average wine-drinker will request, and so they ignore the opportunities to educate their clients about and expand their horizons. Restaurants fall into this trap as well, offering a predominant amount of West Coast wines that, value-for-moneywise, lose out to, say, South American vintages at the outset. Even those who have "wine bar" appellations don't seem to understand the bigger -- and better -- picture: If you put vino into the name equation, as does Fúsha Fondue & Wine, you will, as a matter of course, draw aficionados, including people who buy and sell wine for a living. At which point you must be able to back up your claim -- whether it's merely implied or otherwise.

Fúsha does a half-hearted job. I took a party of eight to this nine-month-old Delray Beach eatery, which is tucked into a corner of the revitalized Pineapple Grove section, figuring that with fondue, the more folks to wield skewers, the better. We immediately ordered two bottles, one each from different producers, of Sauvignon Blanc from the rather limited California-driven list. The server came back with the one bottle that was available, four white wine glasses, and one red wine glass and somehow managed to pour an entire bottle into three glasses. Rather than go into painful minutiae, allow me to just sum up: The servers don't know much about wine, nor can they appear to count and measure. But the problem is bigger than that. We were informed that being a small restaurant, Fúsha doesn't have the space to cellar much. So it stocks, at the most, only two bottles of each vintage -- "unless it's Chardonnay or Merlot, which people like to drink."

On the one hand, I sympathize with the staff and proprietor of Fúsha. The place is indeed rather tiny, with a total of maybe six interior tables and a smattering more in the courtyard outside. The bar has room for -- let me be generous here -- four. As for the wine list, I've seen worse. At least the quality is there, and when we finished the one or two bottles of a vintage that we enjoyed, the owner, an invisible presence from the back that the waitress would refer to as "he," offered us his more-expensive bottles for the same price we'd been paying.

However, given its self-designation, Fúsha owes both itself and its customers the following: Hire a sommelier, even if it's just on a consulting basis, and revamp. I'm not even talking about getting the cult or boutique wines in here, though certified sommeliers usually do have the contacts within the industry to accomplish just that. I'd be satisfied with an internationally drawn list of more exotic varietals that also offers a choice of sized bottles. Our party of eight, for instance, should have been able to order a magnum of something, at least so that everybody could have a taste of the vintage.

I'm harping on this point because I have a feeling that with the right constructive criticism, Fúsha could be Delray Beach's answers to the questions posed by South Beach's Tantra: Can a restaurant imply decadence without resorting to devices like live grass carpeting the foyer and an "aphrodisiacal" menu? Promote sexuality without late-night parties' turning into virtual orgies? Offer such personalized options as tableside fondue preparation and hookah-smoking without ripping you off? Yes, yes, and yes.

Indeed, this limited space has all the potential for being a coveted one. The artwork on the walls, ranging from framed pieces to murals, is vibrant and eclectic, done by locals who exhibit talent. The circular dining room offers tucked-away tables that you can make even cozier by drawing sheer, shower-curtain-size material. A large and colorful hookah, mouthpieces curled around it like cobras, perches on a low-slung table just inside the door. Driving dance music infused with world beats is just loud enough to be effective without limiting conversation, and sophisticated lighting allows you to see your food but at the same time casts intriguing shadows. In short, the seductive décor -- check out those luscious bathrooms -- is extremely effective.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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