Song's restaurant: Asian fusion cuisine in the heart of Taos

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The battered shrimp was crispy, golden, lacy. It dissolved in my mouth, soft and slightly spicy. The dipping sauces (there were two kinds) accentuated the flavor. The dish came with a green salad, artistically arranged in the middle.

Shrimp tempura is one of the most popular entrées at Song's restaurant. Specializing in Asian fusion cuisine, Song's serves Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food, plus a few Korean dishes.

There is also a sushi bar that offers sashimi and a variety of rolls, among them the "Taos roll" that combines tuna, salmon, crabsticks and jalapeño.

The restaurant's owner, Yuanyuan (Connie) Ren, mentioned the Peking duck when I asked for their signature dish.

"It's half a duck, traditionally roasted, with crispy skin and tender, juicy meat," she said.

Other classic Chinese dishes are warrior's chicken (General Tso's chicken), which is served in a sweet and spicy sauce, and moo goo gai pan - chicken breast slices cooked with mushrooms and sweat peas in a light white wine sauce. If you are craving red meat, kung pao is a great option - beef fried with vegetables and peanuts in spicy brown rice.

There are also vegetarian dishes, such as luohan feast (stir-fried vegetables with crispy tofu) and the veggie pad thai.

"The best part of cooking Asian fusion food is that we have something for everybody," Ren said.

Ren's son, Will Song, is a student at Taos High School and also an accomplished writer. Fluent in three languages (Chinese, English and Spanish), his work recently appeared in a collection of short stories published by the Taos Municipal School District: "Aventuras Curiosas de Animales."

"Will has had excellent educational opportunities in Taos," his mother said. "I want to thank his first teachers, Mrs. Molly Martinez and Mrs. Nadine Vigil, who gave him a great start at the Enos García Elementary School."

Her son recounted the story of his family and how they came to own a restaurant in Taos.

"My dad came to the United States from Beijing in 2000," Song said. "I was 1 year old then. After living in Los Angeles and Kansas City, he settled in Taos and my mom and I joined him in 2005. My parents worked at Bravo!, an Italian restaurant. When Bravo! closed, they decided to open their own place and they did in 2008."

Since then, Song's has been named "best of Taos" several times. The clientele keeps growing.

Song used to help in the restaurant. Now he is busy with school and takes care mostly of the security system. He eats "pretty much everything they serve," but favors fish and sushi, particularly the black dragon roll.

"It's the best," he said enthusiastically. "It has a California roll at the bottom and is made with crab, avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds and topped with eel."

As we were talking, a customer walked into the restaurant. His name is Paul Blackburn. He and his wife, Gail Shea, have been eating at Song's since it opened.

"I am a vegan and I love the wonderful selection they have: Thai tofu, spicy eggplant and, of course, sushi," Blackburn said. "We also love the atmosphere. This is a great place to have high-quality Asian food."

Maintaining such high standards is Ren's priority.

"It can be challenging," she admitted. "We are in a small town and can't find as many ingredients as we would in a big city. We have to make an extra effort to get them as fresh as possible."

That's why the restaurant has a different special every month that changes with the season. The current special is Los Angeles-style orange chicken.

Song's chef and business partner is Nelson Zhu. He started as a busboy in California, then became a waiter, a manager and finally the owner of three restaurants in Los Angeles. He came to Taos around two years ago to work at Song's.

"I came for business and joy," he said. "The business part is cooking. And the joy is Connie herself!"

He showed me a Buddha statue placed near the register and flanked by two golden lions.

"The Buddha brings good luck now and in the future," Zhu said. "And the lions ... ah! They are used to protect the business in the Chinese tradition."

Chinese traditions are not only reflected in the food and the décor. Ren enjoys sharing her culture and values with Taoseños. For the last Chinese New Year, on Jan. 28, she visited Taos International School, which offers Spanish immersion and Mandarin Chinese classes. She talked to the children about the celebration, its origin and the colorful costumes that people wear for it.

"Taos has been so good to me," Ren said. "I have gotten a tremendous amount of support from the community. I want new immigrants to know that there are many opportunities here for you. Come and make Taos your home!"

Song's is located at 703 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos. The restaurant's phone number is (575) 758-3256.

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