Providence Cicero reviews the Capitol Hill New American/Asian restaurant Huiyona, where the husband-and-wife owners' Korean and Filipino origins influence a menu of small plates and large.
Boy-meets-girl is a plot line as timeless as it is irresistible. Huiyona is the “beautiful happy” ending of one such tale.
It begins when a boy from Manila meets a girl from Seoul. He’s interviewing for a job at a restaurant; she’s the general manager. He gets the gig. Love quickens, marriage follows. A baby is born and eventually so is a restaurant.
Rachel and Mark Apuyan’s relationship began four years ago at Red Fin in the Hotel Max downtown, but as the daughter of restaurateurs — her parents founded Tacoma’s Korea-town — Rachel’s romance with the business goes way back. Her dream was always to own a restaurant.
Her dad didn’t live to see the dream come true, but they named Huiyona to honor him. Pronounced Hee-YAWNA, it is Rachel’s birth name. In Korean it means happy and beautiful.
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The Apuyan’s transformed the long narrow basement space that was most recently Cellar Bistro into a romantic contemporary cave where couples can converse over dinner in normal tones and larger groups can enjoy a modicum of privacy.
The tunnel-like entryway leads to an inviting lounge, an anteroom to a sleek-black granite bar area. Beyond the bar, archways connect three small dining rooms that each holds four or five tables. A mix of original art, vintage-movie posters and ornate mirrors hang on the roughly textured white walls. Sheer curtains shielding a view of the parking lot have bits of sparkle in them.
The food sparkles some, too. The owners’ Asian origins influence the contemporary American menu of small plates and large, capably executed by chef Adam Lauer, another Red Fin alum.
Mark’s side of the family contributes a trio of crisp, slender lumpia. Ginger, garlic and shallot pep up the ground pork, mushroom and carrot filling; orange zest perfumes the sweet-chili dipping sauce. Crescent-shaped pot stickers crackle, too, when you bite them; a drizzle of reduced balsamic complements the sweet corn filling.
Shrimp corn dogs wear a light cornmeal coat that lets you really taste the plump skewered shellfish underneath, even slathered with sriracha-spiked ketchup. Steamed mussels and calamari sautéed with ribbons of Napa cabbage is quieter, grounded in soothing miso broth.
Rachel’s mom makes the pungent marinade for hangar steak, as well as the kimchee mixed into its accompaniment of fried rice topped with a fried egg whose sunny yolk becomes a sumptuous sauce.
Pork chop with applesauce may sound quintessentially American, but the chunky applesauce is stealthily spiced so that tart, sweet, savory and hot flavors dart across your tongue. The brined and juicy loin chop is served on the bone, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper and sauced with robust brown gravy, for which a dense stack of potatoes Dauphinoise provides just the right starchy companionship.
The Asian accents extend to the bar, where a mojito is made with Thai basil, strawberries and lemon grass syrup; and to the tabletops where chopsticks rest on smooth stones alongside the silverware. Our meal began with warm scented washcloths, followed by a gift from the chef — cucumber salad served in a Chinese soup spoon.
Service is attentive but diffident, and sometimes the kitchen’s efforts fall short. Red-snapper fillet, though perfectly cooked, was severely salty. So was its tamarind-and-tomato tinged sinigang broth, muting that Filipino staple’s characteristic tartness.
Chicken wings were underdone and underseasoned. A whole chicken leg braised in red wine and sake was disappointingly dry, but its sides — wine-glazed button mushrooms and a buttery purée of potato and kabocha squash — were fabulous.
So was olive-oil cake, dense but moist under a sweet conserve of apple, Asian pear and quince. Have it with Kiona ice wine or cava, both among many wines offered by the glass from a diverse list that, like the menu, is modestly priced. A new Friday-night promotion offers bottles at half price. Sounds like a beautiful happy ending to the week.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com