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Valanni Philadelphia Philadelphia’s culinary community needs a science lesson: fusion has become a favorite word among local foodies, but most would flunk a high school physics test. Fusion is the combination of two elements to form something new and more substantial. A byproduct of that union is energy. That excitement is what is missing in too much of Philadelphia’s fusion cuisine. But local restaurant owners George and Valerie Anni go to the head of the class with Valanni, an A-plus effort at Mediterranean-Latin fusion. Think chilies and garlic, coconut and olives, cilantro and basil — with a spark. At Valanni’s bar, the “Brazilian pop” ($7) does just that. Served in a tall, slender cylinder, this mango-pomegranate experiment sparkles with champagne. A variation on that successful concoction, the “passion pop” ($7) mingles bubbly with passionfruit nectar and pomegranate syrup. The brilliant-red, sweet-tart pomegranate is native to the Mediterranean region; passionfruit, or granadilla, is a Brazilian import. Nothing is muddled about the bar’s classic mojito ($6.50), a smooth mixture of light rum, crushed lime and fresh mint. But the “medipolitan” ($7), a twist on the vodka-cranberry-triple sec of the popular cosmopolitan, overwhelms the taste buds with an explosion of flavors — orange vodka, orange liqueur, oranged sugar, mango nectar and rum — in three ounces. Brother and sister R. Evan and Marcie B. Turney collaborate in the kitchen. Both Turneys practiced their art at Philadelphia’s Audrey Claire, and Marcie served as executive chef at 20 Manning, also in Philadelphia. Here, they are alchemists at work. Fresh, young asparagus spears and al dente linguine ($12) are transformed into culinary gold in that kitchen. The secret: a touch of extra virgin olive oil, a zest of lemon, and a sprinkle of thyme and black pepper. But don’t try this at home; these are professionals. They prove that again with the maple- and walnut-crusted duck breast ($16), a signature dish. The roasted duck sits atop a sweet potato mash moistened by a potent coffee-cocoa glaze with a whisper of ginger and nutmeg. Brandied cherries dotting the dish make the entr�e a dessert indulgence. And despite the medley of global ingredients, the dish avoids fusion confusion, each element enhancing, not hiding, the fowl’s rich taste. On the entr�e menu, shellfish meets plantains, scallions, cilantro and coconut ($16), and lamb chops are paired with a cinnamon-ginger marinade and green pumpkin-seed mole ($18). Chicken is introduced to coconut, grapes, apples, almonds, garlic, pineapple and rum ($15). Dinners can create their own combinations with the tapas-style appetizer ($8 or $13). Plum tomato-and-basil bruschetta at one end of the oval plate are balanced by avocado-mango-goat cheese crostini at the other. Piles of white beans and red peppers, saut�ed portobello and grilled zucchini, Greek olives and feta cheese sit in between. Warm feta, tender garlic shrimp, basil pesto and shiitake mushroom slivers are piled on rich, satisfying grilled polenta ($8) in another unexpected and exquisite juxtaposition. The restaurant has more to learn: the pan-seared scallops ($18) supporting layers of asparagus and creamy mashed potato arrives more seared than scallop, although the delicate shiitake jus is a consolation. The dessert menu, too, needs more study. The flavors are varied — vanilla bean, rosewater-orange sauce, espresso, toasted almonds — but the choices ($6), each a potpourri of these tastes, are all similar. Still, the Apple Jack Deli never offered all this. Valanni, which opened its Spruce Street doors in mid-September, is housed in the defunct deli. The narrow space has been rethought by the Ardmore, Pa., design firm Gruber Design Associates. A 14-seat bar serves as nucleus of the cozy, dimly lit restaurant. Banquettes line the walls in the rear of the single dining room, and candles burn on tables for two near the front windows. The clientele crowding the 56-seat restaurant is as varied as the decor — sophisticated black surfaces; hip, exposed brick; casual, comfortable bar stools; and a quirky purple-and-blue striped wall. The deli’s sign — a long, lighted rectangle — remains, now announcing “Valanni,” named for owner Val Anni. The clock, another Apple Jack fixture, is there, too. The purple hands sweep over the numberless face, and a single “V” rests at five o’clock, the time the restaurant opens. The clock is accurate: A true understanding of fusion is an idea whose time has come. Restaurant: Valanni Location: 1229 Spruce St., Philadelphia Hours: Serves dinner from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A lounge menu is available until 1 a.m. seven days a week. Reservations: recommended (215)-790-9494

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