Fusion cuisine—the combining of different culinary traditions—has become a popular trend with chefs looking to flex their creative muscles. Recently opened Arario in midtown blends traditional Korean fare with some interesting twists.
We began with a few small plates. An order of potstickers ($7) was dressed with spiralized scallion, thin sliced radish, arugula and a dusting of spices and came with dipping sauce. The lightly crisped dumplings went well with the veggies, with or without the sauce. Two large patties of fried crab tofu ($10) were both crispy and smooth, topped with crispy crab meat, bonito flake, veggies and miso aioli.
Those plates were followed by a pair of potato dishes, the star being kimchi fries ($8)—topped with bulgogi beef, kimchi, teriyaki sauce, spicy mayo, cheese sauce and shredded cheddar, jack and romano pecorino cheeses. You may not feel like sharing. I picture someone jokingly asking for chili cheese fries, with the chef meeting the bluff and cranking out this elevated interpretation. These are the cheese fries I want served at my funeral.
Coming off that high, I pushed it too far with the “firecracker” ($9). When the server warns, “Are you sure? It’s very, very spicy,” you had better damn well believe her. I have eaten nitro hot wings for breakfast, and often ask for “level five” spiciness at Thai, Indian and Vietnamese joints. Mexican food is my comfort zone. But folks, this bowl’s mix of breaded chicken, fried potato cubes, mozzarella, ghost pepper jack cheese and “secret chili sauce” might be the hottest dish in Reno. And—shockingly—they said it was prepared at “half strength” from the original recipe. I literally shed tears with each bite. But, through all that fire, a collection of well-executed flavors came through. I ate more of it than I should have and later paid dearly for the decision. I double dog dare you to try it.
For something completely different, my friend ordered a dish of clam pasta vongole ($16). It included a variety of steamed clams served with fettuccine, garlic, olive oil, romano pecorino cheese and a large slice of Kalamata garlic bread. Other than an alfalfa sprout garnish, the dish was pretty much straight-up Italian. The crusty, olive-laden toast was a nice touch. Moving more into East-West fusion, a crock of kimchi gratin ($11) with kimchi risotto, bulgogi beef, mozzarella, pecorino, cheddar and scallion was something else—cheesy, a little spicy, a whole lot of tasty.
The one classic Korean dish we ordered—hot pot bibimbap with beef ($12)—was a bowl of fried rice topped with carrot, cabbage, scallion, seaweed, mushroom and a barely fried egg, served with spicy gochujang sauce on the side. It was, surprisingly, a little bland once mixed together, but the gochujang and a dose of shoyu helped. My wife tried adding saucy potatoes from the firecracker, and wow. The rice absorbed a lot of the heat, and the resulting combination was delicious.
My entree of whole squid salad ($14) featured a foot-long, grilled sea monster astride a sautee of baby spinach, arugula, long bean, sweet corn, cherry tomato, romano pecorino cheese, chimichurri sauce and balsamic glaze. The veggies reminded me of a sweet and sour succotash, and the squid was nicely done. It looked spectacular and otherworldly, just the sort of thing to order if you’re trying to either impress—or freak out—your dining companion.