Hong Ngov and Sean Yean have expanded once again in Tacoma.
The longtime restaurant owners opened their latest project, Fuzion Cafe, last week in a stretch of the Narrows neighborhood that’s home to just a few dine-in eateries. Here’s a geographic marker to help: Pao’s Donuts is across and down the street. That ought to guide any longtime Tacoman straight to the new 55-seat Fuzion Cafe.
Fuzion Cafe will have a foundation of Thai cuisine, but the broad menu will pluck flavors from other Southeast Asian countries: Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Sound sort of like a certain Asian restaurant in downtown Tacoma? It should. Ngov and Yean are part of the same family that owns (or has owned) a tapestry of restaurants in the South Sound, all featuring some form of the name Indochine and all with menus spanning a broad range of Southeast Asian flavors.
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Fuzion Cafe was set to open last month, but remodeling delays pushed back that deadline. Then, Ngov and Yean delayed announcing the opening of Fuzion Cafe a week for one reason: The curtains weren’t ready, and the seamstress was worried the restaurant wouldn’t feel finished without them.
That seamstress is someone who no one in the family would dare disobey — because she’s the matriarch of the Indochine restaurants. Kim Taing opened Cafe Indochine in Federal Way in 1995 with her husband, Chhung Ngov. In 2000, they moved to a bigger space with a new name, Indochine Seafood and Satay Bar. Several family members worked at those restaurants, including Hong Ngov, who would go on to open Indochine on Pearl with her husband, Yean, in 2007 (Yean also worked at Federal Way’s Indochine); and Ly Ngov, another daughter who opened Indochine Asian Dining Lounge in downtown Tacoma in 2005 with her husband, Russel Brunton.
And, yes, Taing also sewed the curtains for Indochine on Pearl and Indochine Asian Dining Lounge.
She also sewed the curtains for Indochine on Mildred, the restaurant Ngov and Yean opened in 2005, then closed in 2009 when the couple decided to scale back their business to devote time to their young children. Those children? They’re now high school students on the verge of college. Looming tuition bills had a little something to do with the decision to expand again, the couple said, but ultimately the timing seemed right as their family demands have decreased.
RETIREMENT OR NOT?
Since selling their Federal Way Indochine in 2011, Chhung Ngov and Taing have undertaken what only can be construed as “retirement” by restaurant family standards. They are still helping their children almost daily with prep work in the kitchen, ordering flowers and sewing curtains for the Fuzion Cafe opening, as well as making many of the sauces for opening week. They’re equally involved in daughter Ly’s restaurant downtown — just as the children once were when their parents founded their own Indochine.
Yean recalled several evenings working with his wife’s parents until 1 a.m., only to return to the restaurant a few hours later to do it all again. He called the learning experience in his mid-20s as a time for “filling the holes,” the holes being knowledge he needed to run his own restaurants. Ngov recalled working far fewer restaurant hours than Yean, because she kept a day job working for Northwest Airlines. They’re both now full-time restaurant owners.
Back in the ’90s when the family opened the first Indochine, tom kha was a soup requiring a lengthy explanation and an ingredient expedition to Seattle.
Flash forward nearly 20 years and now some version of tom soup is a convenience food found on the Asian food aisle of most grocery stores. The last two decades have brought to the South Sound shifting palates, better access to ingredients and a region peppered with Southeast Asian restaurants.
It was time, Ngov and Yean said, for their menu to push forward to more challenging flavors and ingredients. They wanted the palate of Fuzion to shift with the palate of their diners, which has grown increasingly sophisticated.
“It’s a combination of all the flavors of South Asia. Thailand, Burma, Laos, Malaysia,” explained Yean, who added that customers have traveled to those countries and when they return, they bring back requests for the dishes they enjoyed while traveling.
Hong noted that several menu items encompass multiple cuisines in a single dish, which she believes will challenge diners who have eaten enough Southeast Asian cuisine to now consider it predictable. An appetizer on the specials sheet called Golden Triangle, she said, combines flavors from Thailand, Laos and Burma (now Myanmar). Some of the restaurant’s Thai-style curries come with additional layers of flavor from Malaysian spicing. The menu even strays to pasta, with two curry noodle dishes substituting spaghetti and linguine for the typical rice noodles.
And speaking of substitutions, the Fuzion menu is full of possibilities. Some dishes are gluten free, some are vegetarian. Look for menu descriptions designating which dishes have been (or can be) modified for special dietary needs. That’s different from Indochine on Pearl, which has a separate gluten-free menu.
For meat eaters, here’s something not often found in Southeast Asian restaurants: lamb. Hong said she added a lamb curry and satay because the meat has become a popular request from her diners at Indochine on Pearl, where the family auditioned several Fuzion Cafe dishes for avid diners.
Also, the new name Fuzion comes with an added bonus: Diners (and their GPS maps) won’t confuse Fuzion with another Indochine restaurant. Ngov said she’s looking forward to having fewer customers show up at Indochine at Pearl who have reservations at the downtown Indochine.