Fusion is back. After years of wincing at the word or trying to talk around it, it’s safe to call it what it is again.

Here in New Orleans, a modern class of Asian-inspired eateries have blown past old memories of pasty wasabi potatoes with new verve and compelling flavors. They’ve put fusion back in currency.

All the while though, Café Minh, a much older Mid-City restaurant, has been providing a very different way to think about fusion. Here, it’s an expression that runs deeper than any dish and reaches beyond the menu.

Café Minh serves pho and spring rolls next to speckled trout piled with lump crabmeat and double-cut pork chops with frenched bones and sprigs of thyme protruding. Dishes mostly stick to their respective Eastern or Western spheres of influence.

The fusion is in the way chefs Minh Bui and Cynthia Vu Tran meld the culinary experience of their native Vietnam with that of their adopted New Orleans home.

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The chefs Cynthia Vu Tran and Minh Bui run their restaurant Café Minh in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

It's not staunchly bound to either, but could not have come about without the influence of both. It comes from absorbing what makes a place distinctive, and then interpreting it as chefs and restaurateurs to build their own niche.

This shows in their understanding of the local palate, especially its fixation on seafood, and their clientele’s regard for hospitality. They’ve created a restaurant that does not get much buzz but draws a rock-solid following of regulars back from all across town.

They’ve been at this for a while.

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Café Minh fills with customers during lunch in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

The chefs, a married couple, run Café Minh together. They each landed in the United States as refugees and eventually joined the growing expat Vietnamese community in New Orleans.

Bui was working as a busboy at Commander’s Palace when Emeril Lagasse arrived there in 1982. When Lagasse left to start his own Emeril’s Restaurant in 1990, Bui was part of the opening crew.

In 1996 he opened Lemon Grass in Mid-City (in the current home of El Rinconcito) as a step up from the typically bare-bones Vietnamese cafés of the day. Together with Tran, they mixed in French and Creole dishes during fusion's first heyday.

Later, Lemon Grass moved to more stylish digs downtown, in the International House Hotel. Eventually they added a second restaurant on Poydras Street called 56 Degrees.

After Hurricane Katrina, they retrenched back where they got their start, redeveloping the old burger spot Michael’s Mid-City Grill as Café Minh and opening in 2007.

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Café Minh's seafood delight, created by chefs Minh Bui and Cynthia Vu Tran, is a specialty dish of lobster, scallops and shrimp with a soy reduction.

Despite its corner joint appearance outside, Café Minh is quietly elegant inside. It’s also not cheap. Many entrees are over $30 (though a few stay under $20) and the numerous nightly specials the staff so convincingly pitches tableside sometimes run over $40 (always ask the price).

But they live up to the billing, arriving as bountiful, lavish compositions. The best are showstoppers that still give the quality of the main ingredients the spotlight.

The seafood delight is a mixed seafood grill with (usually) a lobster tail, shrimp and fat, char-marked scallops on lemon grass skewers, with a tangy-salty soy reduction. The bouillabaisse rises like a Mayan pyramid ridged by shellfish and hunks of drum, built over pasta and sealed with a saffron-scented seafood stock. A whole speckled trout is folded over a casserole's worth of crabmeat, crisped by the broiler.

I love the beggar purses (tender noodle bundles of ground shrimp and pork) and the nut-crusted fried oysters, and I like how when you order them both they’re arranged together for a shared-plate presentation. At lunch I like the entree salads topped with fried shrimp or huge, sesame-dotted soft shell crabs that basically let you order a salad but eat a seafood platter.

For as long as I’ve been eating at Café Minh, Bui and Tran have come up with surprises, like a special appetizer of roasted salmon, gleaming rare within, surrounded by balsamic-drizzled figs. Another brought a clutch of sweet peppers stuffed with a mix of beef, veal and pork in a dark, meaty jus that had me wishing for some Italian bread to dip (a hunk of banh mi loaf sufficed).

I’m not coming here for pho, which is simply better and significantly cheaper at the dedicated noodle parlors around town. But I am drawn again and again to the charcoal pork soup, one of Bui’s signatures, with slices of smoky meat, curly egg noodles and a broth made from pork bones and spring onions.

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The charcoal pork soup, created by chef Minh Bui, is a specialty at Cafe Minh in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Desserts go for old school fancy ooh-la-la. See the cheesecake ringed by starburst patterns of syrups and sauces painted on the plate.

To this day, Bui credits his early days at Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s as formational in his understanding of the restaurant business.

Café Minh is a much more modest undertaking, but the imprint is clear. There are classic touches rarely still seen in the small restaurants that come along these days, like tables set with linens and bud vases.

It’s also in the service, with the staff’s fluency in the long menu, familiarity with the impressive wine list and simple intuition for service, like holding open the door when a party approaches.

Modern fusion can bring culinary experiences you never expected. Café Minh is still showing us things we shouldn’t forget.

Café Minh

4139 Canal St., 504-482-6266

Lunch Tue.–Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.