- Alice Levitt
On Monday, August 31, at 11 a.m., the front entrance of Burlington Town Center was starting to look like the mall in George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead. Shoppers stopped to gaze or slowly ambled past, slack-jawed, their eyes fixed. But these were no zombies. The living were mesmerized by the spectacle of A Cuisine's grand opening.
What grabbed the attention of the hordes entering the mall was sushi, dumplings and edamame slowly making their way around the restaurant's tables on an automated belt. A Cuisine, owned by Sandy and Grace Kong of Asiana Noodle Shop, is not merely Vermont's first conveyor-belt restaurant, but the first one with an emphasis on all things Taiwanese. "Everything is Taiwanese, even me," joked Grace Kong, who came to Burlington four years ago and married Sandy last year.
Sandy and one other chef were busy turning out spicy tuna rolls and shallow glasses filled with rice, guacamole and salmon. The principle is simple: Diners grab plates that appeal to them from the conveyor belt and eat. White or green plates cost $3; red or yellow ones, $5. Each table is outfitted with small dishes and a tiny drawer filled with stylish black chopsticks, also imported from Taiwan.
Grace Kong's homeland inspired the concept, too. "When I came here, I didn't see any new kind of restaurants," she said of Burlington's lack of culinary modernity.
Along with her wife's ever-changing sushi creations, Grace is pleased to have Taiwanese-style skewers turning on the conveyor belt. Basically a Taiwanese adaptation of Japanese kushiyaki, the 19 different sticks include basics such as yakitori, satay, sweet corn and bacon-wrapped scallops, but also offal offerings such as chicken heart and beef liver. The meats-on-a-stick can be ordered from the kitchen via server, as well as grabbed from the belt. "With beer, it is so good!" Grace exclaimed. (Brews are available by the can.)
Appetizers also span Asia. Malaysian roti canai is crisp bread with red-curry dipping sauce. Takoyaki (Japanese fried octopus balls) was a breakout hit during A Cuisine's soft opening, which started Saturday, Grace said.
Other dishes are either too big or too labor-intensive to ride the conveyor belt. A Cuisine's entrées, which cost between $16.95 and $22.95, include lamb chops with couscous and omuraisu (a rice-stuffed omelette) filled with kimchi fried rice.
Located at the mall's upstairs Church Street entrance, A Cuisine opens daily at 11 a.m. The small plates keep on turning, with new choices throughout the day, until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.