The abundant pros and occasional pitfalls of Fuschia, the 4-month old Asian restaurant in south Arlington, are summed up in the two-word slogan emblazoned on its menu: "Artistically delicious."
Indeed, nearly all of the dishes emerging from the kitchen of head chef Hao Xiao are suitable for framing. Everything from the fleurette garnishes wrought from tomato peels, the white plates undulating like a pagoda's roof, to the curlicues of carrots that gather as "roots" to scallion "trees," reinforces Fuschia's undeniable skill with presentation.
Alas, the restaurant's frustrating reluctance to spice authoritatively several dishes prevents it from being an unqualified hit. While certain dishes -- oddly enough some of its simplest -- are plenty zesty, others are stubbornly wan, even if dazzling visually, the culinary supermodel who is sometimes duller than a dial tone.
Fuschia has a sleek, minimalist interior with fashionably exposed pipes, plush banquettes flanking dark-wood tables and lovely wall prints featuring iconic Japanese subjects. The restaurant's most Zen design touch is its two rain-curtain fountains where water sluices down vertical wires, like aquatic harp strings.
The fountain's steady gurgle provides the soothing soundtrack with which to munch on the house's "amuse bouche" of greaselessly fried chips and their accompanying marmalade-sweet duck dipping sauce. A simple wonton soup starter ($2.50) features freshly made dumplings, filled with bits of nicely seasoned pork and floating in a soothing broth.
An equally auspicious appetizer is the spicy tuna and crab nachos ($5.95), with the luxuriant crab dancing a palate tango with boldly seasoned tuna, all fired by the Japanese seven-spice powder shichimi. Grilled Asian spareribs ($7.95) are beautiful to look at, with a perfect tattoo of grill marks and glistening juiciness. But their taste never gets beyond pleasant meatiness.
Sushi rolls tend to dominate Fuschia's menu. The spicy tuna roll ($5.95) lacks much of its advertised "spice" (its "spicy mayo" is hard to discern), while the Philly roll ($5.95) does attain that desired balance between the suppleness of the cream cheese and avocado, and the smoky saline bite of the salmon.
But these two rolls are merely opening acts to the dazzling arrival and taste of the Fuschia roll ($12.95): Eight pieces of a perfectly orchestrated mosaic of lobster salad, white tuna tempura and crisp asparagus, speckled with black and green fish roe, and laced with a "special sauce" combining the essence of mango and eel. And in case the roll's taste-bud fireworks are insufficient, the plate is accented by a flickering, battery-powered lamp. It is impossible not to admire this sound and light show, even before taking that first bite.
For those still hesitant about eating raw fish, Fuschia's "hot kichen" cooks up everything from Korean barbecue short ribs ($12.95) to a Chinese classic, orange beef ($9.95). Two of the chef's favorites include the Singapore rice noodles ($8.95), where a generous hillock of glass noodles features various bell peppers, stippled with stir-fried beef, chicken and shrimp. It's all perfectly cooked yet lacks that needed boost from its advertised spicy curry sauce.
Much more satisfying is the Mongolian beef and onions ($8.95) with generous slices of beef interlaced with caramelized, stir-fried scallions, and bathing in an unctuous hoisin glaze.
Once Fuschia brings the same panache and boldness to its seasoning that it so naturally applies to its plating design, it will be a bona fide Asian culinary hit.