Yuki Hana: A Genuine Boldness
Yuki Hana specializes in the unexpected, yielding a delightful combination of sushi and Japanese fusion.
Artists at work: Chefs Albert DeSue (left) and Steven Phan prepare the house-cured salmon, with avocado, shallots and edamame cream.
The main drag of Oviedo is an interesting place, a habitat for chain eateries, apartment buildings and the odd saloon. Passing several restaurants (including NY Pizza Baby, a name that is worth the ride), you’ll eventually find Yuki Hana Sushi & Japanese Fusion in a strip mall that includes a doughnut shop and a pizza place. Don’t be fooled by the unexciting surroundings.
I last wrote about Yuki Hana in 2014, when it had been open for a year. At the time I was impressed by the touches of fusion cuisine that accented the sushi and kitchen food. Now, almost four years on, 30-year-old Executive Chef Albert DeSue helms the kitchen, and the fusion is much more pronounced and adventurous without sacrificing what remains a very good sushiya.
DeSue has The Smiling Bison, Scratch and Seito Sushi on his resume, and you can see those pan-cultural influences on his plates. Within an ever-changing menu, his history of dishes at Yuki Hana has seen him roasting bass in corn husks and miso, and hand-curing texturally fascinating cobia prosciutto. For the current fall bill of fare, he goes to meals that one might normally find in a much colder clime. A seared duck dish ($18) in shades of deep pink takes superbly cooked duck and adds pan-crisped apple wedges to a base of miso applesauce, turning dessert into savory.
DeSue’s take on sukiyaki ($28) matches lightly seared Wagyu with a single warmed egg yolk, blistered leeks, mushrooms and crispy tofu cubes, draped in a meaty jus poured tableside. The perfectly tender beef mingles with the rich ingredients (“Don’t be afraid to get in there and mix it all up,” he says), making this a very lush dish.
“I wanted to bring different styles of Japanese cuisine,” DeSue says. “This sukiyaki dish is smaller and a little more composed to add a sense of beauty and elegance.”
Owner Ping Jiang plans to have “duck weekends” for special creations during the season, and an expanded menu of robata dishes. Japanese robata grills, which sear at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees over oak charcoal, are actually older than sushi itself; the results on the menu include applewood bacon-wrapped scallops ($18) and fragrant charred octopus ($13).
Sous chef Steven Phan has worked at Sushi Pop and Kabooki Sushi, both places giving him intense exposure to less familiar and sometimes unconventional dishes.
I loved the simplicity of an offering called battera ($12), an unusual sushi from Osaka of vinegared Norwegian mackerel, layered atop a block of rice and then pressed into minimalist rectangles. A presentation of artistic pinches of pale coral fish atop a charcoal plate made the house-cured salmon ($15) almost too pretty to disturb. Smoked salmon, wrapped around slivers of avocado and accented by dots of edamame cream and lovely, tart pickled shallots appeared delicate and fresh—do you attempt the juggling of chopsticks, or just dive in with your hands? Our waiter admitted to wiping the plate with a finger (on his own time, of course), which might be the easiest way. “Vietnamese sashimi” ($13) is almost a summer roll sushi, made of salmon, tuna and yellowtail wrapped in lettuce and rice paper. I was thrown off by a topping of tomato (sorry), but the fish was wonderful.
Yuki Hana, along with its relatively close stylistic neighbor, Sushi Pop, continues to explore the boundaries of Japanese cooking. And we’re all the happier for it.
Above and Beyond
Special items appear continually on this ever-changing menu. Tuesdays are for ramen, with hand-pulled noodles and a pork, chicken and beef broth refined over months of practice for clarity and flavor. And as ingredients and seasons come and go, the restaurant also wants to increase its popular omakase “chef’s choice” plates.