I'm guessing a majority of central Pennsylvania's dining-out crowd has not experienced the centuries-old Chinese tradition of "hot pot" cooking.
It's fondue without the cheese, chocolate or long, skinny forks. And it's available in Camp Hill in a relatively new restaurant right beside the Camp Hill Cinema Center on Simpson Ferry Road.
But if you're thinking about enjoying dinner and a movie, you better see the movie first. "Hot pot" meals are not what one would ever call fast food.
But I get ahead of myself.
The site has been the location for a bunch of hapless eateries that lost the good fight. This restaurant — its full name is Fusion Fire Asian Fondue and Sushi Bar — might look like some kind of fort on the outside, but inside it is gorgeous.
It is sleek and modern: gray and charcoal walls, dark hardwood flooring, large booths and tables set off by pillars holding etched glass, an attractive sushi bar, elegant chop-sticks, linen napkins and simple but classy white plates, bowls, soup spoons and tea services.
Yet despite its clear investment in style, Fusion Fire has a casual, easy-going feel that seems to match almost any patron's attire. Once inside, you won't feel like you're anywhere near a strip mall, a movieplex or, for that matter, central Pennsylvania.
I was there on a week night and the place was packed. Judging from the steam rising from the tables, "hot pot" was the main attraction. Such cuisine is said to have started more than 1,000 years ago. Mongol soldiers are believed to have boiled their food in their helmets.
But the "pot" here is actually more of a covered, two-chambered silver tureen that sits on a built-in cook-top in the middle of the table. And, trust me, it does get hot.
But I get ahead of myself.
There are two menus, one for the more-familiar Thai- and sushi-side of the place, and an entire separate menu for "hot pot" items.
It can get confusing. Diners are asked to go through a four-step process: pick an entrée, pick a broth to cook it in, pick a dipping sauce to dip it in once it's cooked and pick a noodle to go with it. This can get pricey, because everything — the entrée, the broth, the noodles, etc. — is priced individually and per order. ("Combos" come with dipping sauce, veggies and noodles.)
My table's server, who was terrific, patiently explained the process and all the options. This lead to a prolonged discussion with my dining partner and some disagreement over my suggestion of ordering quail eggs, squid and prawns.
But our server, sensing a need for intervention, then explained that Fusion Fire just added one-price "packages" for two, three, four, five, six diners and mentioned we could order a combo of "meat lovers" and scallops, two broths, dipping sauces, veggies, some "meatballs" and noodles.
A saving grace in my book; we ordered a $60 package for two.
While waiting, we also had a shrimp tempura roll with cucumber, lettuce and caviar ($6) and a three-piece order of crispy Thai spring rolls ($6) with chicken, veggies and lime juice. Both were excellent.
The "meat lovers" is a lot, and I mean a lot, of thinly-sliced beef, lamb and pork that you drop into your steaming broth (satay, beef stew, curry and others). The scallops are large, fresh and delicious. The "meatballs" are actually rounded servings of pureed fish, shrimp and chicken that cook in 30 seconds and are different and wonderful. Noodle choices include udon, Chinese, wide bean and more.
There's a sort of pincer tool to pick up your raw food and drop it in your broth of choice. Because the food is thin and light, it cooks in no time. There's another tool with a rounded sieve on the end to scoop your cooked food out and onto your plate. This is unique and tasty dining.
Ordering, cooking and eating "hot pot" takes time. So bring some friends, bring some wine (it's BYOB) and settle in.
My meal doesn't begin to recount options. There is, for example, shrimp and pureed crab, crab balls and crab legs. There are mussels and oysters, beef tripe, Kobe beef short ribs and the aforementioned quail eggs, squid and prawns.
And again, this is ONLY the "hot pot" menu. There's a whole other menu offering dozens of sushi and Thai dishes.
Now I understand there are those who go out specifically so someone else will cook their food. Also, some food offerings here represent acquired tastes. Fusion Fire isn't for everyone.
But as a dining experience, especially with a small group, it can be a unique night out, lots of fun or just something new and different. And I recommend you try it.
FUSION FIRE ASIAN FONDUE & SUSHI BAR
3421 Simpson Ferry Road, Camp Hill; 717.731.1188; www.fusionfire.com
Hours: Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner; reservations accepted; adjacent parking; BYOB.
Published in Phantom Diner
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