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Fresh fusion <br> Take your pick of Thai, Japanese at Orchid Asian

I don't know what the words "Fusion Style" mean exactly -- at least not as they apply to the newly opened Orchid Asian Bistro. But the menu bears those words proudly -- though most of the dishes are either Thai (printed in purple ink) or Japanese (black ink).

It's not a blend of the two.

Nevertheless, an interesting couplet, not seen often in these parts. This Thai Japanese restaurant sits in a plaza that's virtually a United Nations. Just next door are the Lingling Chinese Restaurants and, on the other side, an Italian grocery store.

I guess you could say Orchid sort of fills in the blanks.

This is not a large place. There's a nice-looking sushi bar at the entrance, which leads to a room with crushed velvet booths tucked here and there. The menu boasts lots of sushi and, if the Crazy Roll offered to us as an amuse bouche is any indication, it's good sushi.

The Crazy Roll (normally $10 for four pieces) is a deep-fried concoction of salmon, white fish and avocado with a few scallions thrown in for good measure. It's one of the house special rolls -- others include Magical Roll (spicy crunchy tuna, eel, avocado and shrimp, $11), Golden Roll (king crab, asparagus, mango, wasabi and tobiko) and a riceless Naruto roll with seafood and cucumber). But there are about a zillion more combinations.

One of us opted to eat Japanese -- sort of because he began his meal with an ala carte Thai Tom Yam Soup ($4), a minor triumph. It's a generous bowlful of spicy broth with loads of shrimp and mushrooms plus tomato and celery.

And I went for Thai, starting with Mango Seafood Salad ($7). Not only was this a very fresh melange of seafood and cubed mango, it was presented beautifully in an impressive goblet garnished with a tiny orchid complete with shiny leaf.

The Miso Soup that came along with the Japanese entree, though, was bland and ordinary. The house green salad was enhanced by nicely tart dressing. Chicken Teriyaki, generously served ($12), was impressive to look at with asparagus spears standing at attention. And the chicken strips were tender and tasty.

My Thai Dinner Sambal Style ($12) was really a stir fry with lots of shrimp and red bell peppers. Although it was marked with that scary asterisk on the menu (*), it was comparatively mild. All of this was accompanied by glasses of unusual green tea -- the leaves had been ground with roast rice.

Then came dessert. We decided to share Tempura Ice Cream ($5), chocolate, no less. This is our old friend Fried Ice Cream, but this time the icy stuff was enclosed in some sort of lumpy white batter, a little like dry wall. Nope.

The menu does offer a couple of notable touches. The Kids' Menu, for instance, offers a choice of A or B. Both are centered around chicken (teriyaki or tempura) and include shumai dumplings, California Roll and rice; both are $8. I think that's very clever. This is exactly what the most finicky kids will actually eat.

***

ORCHID ASIAN BISTRO

3 stars (out of 4)*

WHERE: 2756 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore (877-8880, www.orchidasianbistro.com). A small neighborhood restaurant that specializes in Japanese and Thai cuisine. It describes the menu as "fusion style." No wine or beer yet. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Mango Seafood Salad

NEEDS WORK: Tempura Ice Cream

PRICE RANGE: Japanese dinner entrees from $12, include soup or salad and rice. Thai dinner entrees from $9. Lunch specials. SERVICE: Very good

HOURS: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. 12:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday, 1 to 9:30 p.m.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

PARKING: In the plaza

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food. * indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.