On the car ride to Yona in Virginia’s Ballston neighborhood, I’m negotiating with myself. My husband is in the car, but at the moment he’s not part of the conversation. I’m thinking about what I’ll order. How meat-centric can I be when it’s just the two of us, and he doesn’t eat meat or shellfish? I absolutely must have the uni waffle that’s been raved about in early reviews. Chicken wings are also on the menu, and I always find those hard to ignore. Yona is a restaurant that specializes in ramen, and while there is a vegetarian version why wouldn’t I order the one with pork? (It’s really for the best that I’m focused on these questions, as my husband’s Waze is programmed in the voice of C3PO from Star Wars, and it’s driving me crazy.)
Yona is the creation of Chef Jonah Kim, formerly of Baltimore’s Pabu and the increasingly prolific chef/restaurateur Mike Isabella. The menu focuses on Kim’s Korean heritage and Japanese training, There’s an emphasis on noodles. The restaurant is cozy and casual, with a long communal table occupying much of the 50-seat space. Isabella and his family are seated next to us, enjoying a tour of his establishments on the block which also include Kapnos Taverna and Pepita Cantina.
I take a moment to turn my pre-dining debate into decisions. But I still have questions.
How can a deceptively simple combination of radishes and apples with sesame sauce be transformed into such a refreshing, and dare I say dazzling, starter?
Why am I so taken with crisp brussels sprouts slathered with Japanese mayo and a dash of rice pearls? It seems as if I would be tired of this vegetable by now, but Chef Kim’s take reminds me that a creative spin can make brussels sprouts fresh again.
How does Chef Kim impart so much flavor into his awe-inspiring veggie ramen? Is it the meaty eringi mushrooms that elevate this dish? The touch of black garlic oil? Or is it his use of soy milk-veggie broth? Pork….who needs pork?
Delicate hamachi dusted with fish eggs is brightened by chojan- the Korean version of ketchup. Can we turn to this pairing in place of fries and ketchup? I say, yes.
And finally, am I really going to have the uni waffle with caviar and taramasalata all to myself? Sometimes having a husband with food restrictions has its benefits. Greek taramasalata (a popular fish spread served at Kapnos) appears with uni and a dollop of caviar, served on a crisp waffle with a touch of sweetness to counter the salty accoutrements. It’s a highlight dish at Yona, probably best shared, but if that isn’t possible, go for it anyway.
Miso-caramel panna cotta with apple sauce sorbet and a sesame cookie cracker is a cool exclamation point after all my questions.
Yona is a new restaurant in Arlington that warrants attention, punctuated by multiple visits. There’s no question about it.
Yona, 400 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Va
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “Yona wins with kitchen artistry and warm hospitality”