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Review: Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen 

Creative pan-Asian cooking redeems the old F-word: fusion cuisine

click to enlarge Diners share food and drinks at the bar at Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Diners share food and drinks at the bar at Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen.

The term "fusion" has a bad rap in the food world. Chefs still shy away from the '90s buzzword, which can evoke images of black sesame-crusted ahi tuna, overpriced gimmicks featuring lychee fruit and an abundance of foie gras.

  At Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen, a new pan-Asian restaurant, chef David Dickensauge is breathing a little bit of life into that musty term, offering an expansive and ambitious menu that aims to show off a pantry full of global ingredients in a trendy Warehouse District setting. Dishes are influenced mostly by Latin and East Asian cuisines, particularly Brazilian and Korean, a nod to owner Seung Hong's upbringing.

  Gochujang, the fiery fermented soybean chili paste, shows up in several creations, including an excellent variation on a margarita. Coconut milk ceviche is served with golden plantain chips, and yuja honey vinaigrette dresses the house salad.

  Large masa crust empanadas are filled with a creamy blend of Oaxaca cheese and kimchi and topped with pale green chimichurri creme fraiche. At first, the buttery envelopes feel like a college kid's experiment with homemade Hot Pockets, but one bite reveals a subtle flavor combination that hints at a kitchen staff not afraid to have a little fun.

  Many menu items make for good bar snacking, and the casual atmosphere is highlighted by an abundance of widescreen televisions mounted on the exposed brick walls of the cavernous space.

  It's hard to pass up the hoisin-braised pork belly sliders or the Korean short rib version, the latter slathered in bone marrow aioli and topped with tangy gochujang slaw. Tomato-bacon dashi jam and Sriracha ketchup add soft sweetness, the flavors working together and not outshining each other.

  A refreshing take on the ubiquitous kale salad features thick ribbons of kale tossed with pecans, carrots and plump sake-soaked raisins. The salad is dressed with a heavy hand, the leaves coated in spicy wasabi cream that carries just enough heat.

  A medley of wok-fried Brussels sprouts and mixed greens tossed with fish vinaigrette seems odd at first, but after a couple of bites, the greens begin to wilt and warm with the juices imparted by drippings from crispy lamb pancetta nibs and syrupy maple brown butter.

  Not every dish is a success. In some cases, the long list of ingredients is overkill, overwhelming nuanced flavors. Seared Hokkaido scallops are fine on their own, but some of the dish's strong flavors overpower the other elements. I tasted buttery, salty dollops of uni and the deeply funky nori puree — a dark green streak on the plate that tasted of the sea — but noted little of the Meyer lemon or the ghost pepper-infused caviar, which I had hoped would help break up some of the richer elements.

  Ramen poutine fries are belly-busting bar fodder, topped with morsels of braised short ribs and large curds of Cotija cheese. The fries are soaked in heavy ramen broth gravy, and the dish seems out of place among more refined offerings.

  Shoestring fries, which accompany the sliders and an excellent Wagyu beef burger, fare better. The julienned matchsticks sit under a blanket of finely shredded nori and bonito flakes, giving the crispy potato wisps an unami kick, which is doubled by a dunk in accompanying miso ketchup.

  The squid ink spaghettina succeeds on all fronts, showing that the right ingredients can play off each other, resulting in harmony rather than discord. Thick, chewy ribbons of fettuccine are coated with garlic-tomato compote and red curry cream, which carries subtle heat that builds with each bite. Topped with jumbo Gulf shrimp, fat lobster claws and plump crawfish, the medley seems like a cioppino hybrid. Seaweed butter and dashi broth add depth while kimchi and a spoonful of fermented fish roe provide a bit of brine and funk.

  Despite some slight oversteps, the food at Rebellion is creative and fun, and it's a good place to relax and experience a bounty of flavors and ingredients and become comfortable saying the F-word again.

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