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 42 Fusion

Where Mexican Meets Italian in a Great Space

[From the Fall 2023 Showcase of Homes Magazine]

Written By Theresa St. John  |  Photos by Susan Blackburn Photography

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him. The people who give you their food give you their heart.” - Cesar Chavez

Ballston Spa is a quaint, walkable village known for its rich history, culture, people, and mineral springs. Less than a half-hour from the hustle and bustle of Saratoga, it lends a refreshing view of yesteryear, with plenty of options for participating in community events, shopping at unique storefronts, and enjoying fantastic food venues while in town.  

Across the street from Wiswall Park, where what seems like hundreds of hand-painted birdhouses color the scenic area and bring smiles to both locals and day-tripping faces, my friends and I decide to share a meal at 42 Fusion, a Mexican-Italian restaurant that opened in May of this year. When we hear this combination of cultures, we figure there must be a back story and feel the need to find out what it is! 

Chris Bushee, Magazine Managing Editor of several publications in Saratoga, is the powerhouse who always spearheads these restaurant visits. Susan Blackburn photographs our meals, and I get to write about our taste-bud experiences afterward. It’s an excellent way for the three of us to meet a few times a year – we get to catch up over a yummy lunch or fancy dinner and drinks.  

The three of us arrive around noon, and we’re the first to step inside this charming eatery. It’s cozy, with black tables tucked into corners or set in front of large windows that allow natural light to stream through. The waitress says they cover the tables with black cloth for the evening crowd, which dresses the room up a bit.

Tino Lopez is the chef/owner of 42 Fusion. He smiles when I ask where he's from. "I moved here from Mexico in March 2006. I fell in love with Saratoga when vacationing here for the first time: I remember thinking, 'I'm going to move here one day!'" He explains that it was a seed dream that kept growing until he made it happen. Once here in America, Tino worked in Italian restaurants for the next 20 years but never forgot his roots and deep affinity for authentic Mexican food. 

"I was determined to own my own restaurant but wasn't certain the opportunity would ever happen. When it did," he continues with a grin that turns into an infectious laugh, "I jumped." Although the Mexican-Italian fusion was undoubtedly a different culinary idea, he loved both cuisines and couldn't choose between the two. He often cooked the combination in original or modified recipes, and both friends and family praised the dishes. "It took about six months to develop our menu, and we think it's a good fit for what we want to represent."

Alicia Halse is his co-owner and works the front of 42 Fusion. She's friendly and outgoing and manages the day-to-day operations. When we ate there, she was our greeter waitress, and it seemed we'd known her for a long time. During the two hours we meandered through the dishes she served, we watched as she worked the room, greeting everyone and making them feel at home.

We decided on the Charred Poblano for our appetizer. I’ve never had them before, fearing the heat might be too much for me. I’m delightfully surprised. The peppers have a unique flavor – smokey, slightly sweet, and just the right amount of burn. Ours are stuffed with the house blend of cheese, spices, and a mixture of Chorizo and Italian sausage. 

Their Mexican Cobb Salad is delicious - a little leaf lettuce and arugula topped with crispy Chorizo, red onions, hard-boiled egg, corn, spiced-toasted Pepitas, black beans, perfectly ripened avocado, plump cherry tomatoes, Queso fresco, Cotija, and Kalamata olives. The freshest ingredients are topped with a zesty Poblano-Cilantro dressing. These little differences from any other Cobb salad made all the difference. 

When I ask what the white cheese is, as the flavor is unfamiliar, I learn that Queso fresco, a staple in many Mexican kitchens, is produced differently than other white cheeses. My friends and I taste a bolder, tangier flavor than mozzarella cheese, but we also note it’s sweeter and a bit saltier than the goat cheeses we’re used to. Whatever the reason, our pallets are happy, and we nod in agreement – it’s a nice change in flavor. 

We watch a party of four wander in and sit down. Tino walks out of his kitchen, and they greet him with a smile and a handshake. “Look, we came back, and this time we brought friends!” one man says with an infectious grin. They chat with the chef briefly, as if they’ve known him for years. I hear Tino suggest a few items on the menu and then watch as he turns the table over to Alicia. It’s nice to see how smooth the transition is between the two. 

So, back to our table… Do I love lasagna? You bet I do – it’s one of my favorite Italian dishes: bubbling cheeses, sweet tomato sauce, perfectly cooked noodles, and ricotta cheese – what could be better? At 42 Fusion, I try Mexican lasagna for the 1st time. The entrée arrives baked with a trio of seasoned ground beef, Chorizo, and veal layered with a blend of Oaxacan cheese and fresh mozzarella simmering between pasta sheets and homemade tomato sauce.    

We also tried 42 Fusion’s Short Ribs, baked to perfection – with just the right amount of fresh thyme and other spices. They’re served with a spicy demi-glaze and placed on a bed of creamy polenta. We didn’t even need a knife to cut the meat – it was that tender.

We put our forks down several times to talk about life and things that have happened since our last visit, but mostly to let our stomachs settle so we’d have room for dessert. Who doesn’t like to end things on a sweet note?

The flan reminded me of Crème Brulee; it was a sweet, creamy custard with fresh vanilla beans topped with a caramel sauce, and there was plenty of it to go around. The same goes for the dish of Churros. Chris couldn’t believe I’d never tried this treat before. This Oaxacan dessert is fried to a golden brown and covered in cinnamon sugar. I was hungry again, just looking at it. The plate had a small cup of chocolate sauce, which was so delicious we could easily have drunk it. When I asked how the sauce had been made, Tino grinned. “Uh-uh,” he told us. “It’s a secret recipe; you cannot have it.” 

That’s the great thing about chefs who try new recipes on guests – already confident they’ll be a hit. It might have been our first time eating at 42 Fusion, but we left knowing it would not be our last.