3539 South Jefferson St
Bailey's Crossroads, VA 22041
Before you head over to the Asian Fusion restaurant Kenji Fusion in the Skyline/Bailey’s Crossroads neighborhood of Falls Church, consider this exchange between Frasier and Niles in the old sitcom Frasier*:
Niles: Frasier, I hope you're free tonight. I just secured a table at the most exclusive new restaurant in Seattle.
Frasier: I'm sorry - just not in the mood.
Niles: At least hear me out - this place is the hottest new thing in fusion cuisine.
Frasier: What cuisines are being fused?
Niles: Polynesian and Scandanavian. It's called "Mahalo-Valhalla."
Frasier: Well, perhaps there's a reason why God put those two countries so far apart.
Niles: I had my doubts too. But my gourmet newsletter gave three-and-a-half whisks to their coconut herring.
I quote this show because its further proof I am not a big fan of fusion restaurants. The old adage, “if you can do one thing well, stick with it. The more you add, the more washed out it becomes.” I think Kenji Fusion is evidence of this adage. In and around the NoVA dining scene there are really good Chinese, good Japanese, good Korean, good Thai, etc. Search this blog, or Yelp, or other reviewers and you’ll find them. IMHO, when each of the continent’s menus are fused, it takes a lot of guts, skill, and knowledge to pull it off. Kenji Fusion comes close, the food is OK, but what drops its bar is in its service and décor—both are nice, but fall way short of what a restaurant should be. If Niles’ gourmet newsletter gave three-and-a-half whisks to their coconut herring, then we give 2 whisks to Kenji Fusion.
Let’s start with the food simply because it was the only part of the meal that was acceptable. Savvy readers may want to skip this section and proceed directly to the décor and service below. Our orders consisted of several Japanese rolls (Philadelphia Rolls, California Rolls, Tempura Shrimp Rolls, Sweet Potato Rolls—oh wait, the Tempura Shrimp and Sweet Potato Rolls never showed up—more on that later). These rolls were “ok”, but I think a Japanese sushi house could do them much better. Our entrées consisted of Singapore Noodles, Chicken Tempura (never showed up—more on that later), Ginger Tofu with Veggies, and Chicken Teriyaki. All of our entrées passed the taste test, but because they were served out of order and some entrées came out late, detracted from the experience. Again, more on that later.
So you probably are here because you skipped the paragraph on the food. That’s ok,
because this is where the review really begins. Finding a place to start is difficult, so we’ll start with the décor as that is always the first impression. Kenji Fusion’s décor tries. Tries real hard, but fails miserably and ends up being very cheesy. Booths are huge, poorly lit, and very uncomfortable as the tables are so narrow that in order to eat you must sit at the edge of the bench. Great ideas in an open floor plan but too much thought on conveying a contemporary atmosphere and not enough though on diner comfort. The lighting is a too-dark mixture constructed with a back-light behind crystal glass balls. Makes for an interesting scheme, however, the gradual color reflections from one color to the next makes reading a menu extremely difficult. TVs showing sporting events and CNN were way out of place and distracted from the entire experience. Maybe limit the TVs to just the bar area?
On to the service at Kenji Fusion. OMG, how bad can service be? Order a sushi roll you’re likely to see a coconut herring delivered. OK, our guy may have been new, but he was inattentive, lacked experience (and a command of English), and did not understand the basics of dining service. Nothing could warn us more since he was very attentive on the front-end as we previewed the menu. He came by at least twice before we were ready to order ensuring we knew and understood the drink menu. Our dining companions noticed his elaborate square drawn out on his notepad, but that’s where the organization stopped. We purposely went slow through our order and “hoped” he would get it right.
We ordered two soups and four sushi rolls as starters. The soups arrived soon enough, but only two sushi rolls ever showed up. The menu states that avocado, crab sticks, etc. can be added to any roll order (for an additional charge), imagine our frustration when we ordered a sweet potato roll with extra avocado and had to argue with the waiter to convince him that the menu actually does say this is possible. Since the roll never came, we will never know if the extra was conveyed to the sushi chef. Did our starters (rolls, salads, etc.) actually start the meal? Hardly. Yes, soups came out first (believe it or not, the ONLY thing on our order that came out as ordered and were quite good), but they were followed by a mish-mash of screwed up orders.
You’ll have to follow closely here, because this actually happened to one of our diners: Food ordered—tempura shrimp roll (for app) and tempura chicken meal with Miso soup. What came to the diner? The soup, yes. But an entrée of tempura shrimp (with no roll). Ugh.
Three entrées arrived for the four of us with one forgotten about. We waited about 10 minutes for our Chicken – err – Tofu with vegetables to arrive. Yes, ordered tofu, but chicken came out. Obviously another error that was about as messed up as the rest of the service. I could go on-and-on, but you should be getting the point by now.
As with most fusion-type places, there is an attraction to serving a hybrid of different cuisines. If Mom wants Korean, Dad wants Chinese, and the kids want sushi, perhaps a place like Kenji Fusion works. But works only if comfort and service are not high on your list of dining needs. I’ll pass on the coconut herring.
* FRASIER. “Sweet Dreams” written by Jay Kogen, directed by Sheldon Epps. Original Airdate on NBC: 19th May 1998.