Yuki Hana, with its exotic takes on sushi and more, carves out a place on the thriving Japanese dining scene.
The Sweet Heart Roll is a lovable combination of tuna, tempura eel, mango and fish roe in a pink soy wrap.
The Oviedo area has become a Japanese foodie haven, with the adventurous Sushi Pop, the funky fusion of Tokyo Tapas, a traditional Shogun steakhouse and the new Oyishi Japanese restaurant in the Oviedo Mall.
Opened in January 2013, Yuki Hana has made an impact on the crowded market, reflected in the number 2 spot in this year’s Orlando magazine Dining Awards as Best New Restaurant behind seafood powerhouse Eddie V’s, and a respectable third place for Best Japanese.
“Yuki hana” translates as both a cherry blossom in snow or happiness and a beautiful woman, a phrase out of poetry that may trace back to ancient China. Fitting then that the beautiful woman of Yuki Hana, Ping Jiang, and her husband, Chef Eddie Chen, are from China. I find it interesting that some of the chefs garnering attention for their superb sushi locally aren’t from Japan: Sushi Pop’s chef Chau is from Vietnam; Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi was born in Laos; Ray Hideaki Leung of Dragonfly grew up in Hong Kong. Perhaps one path to innovative sushi comes from exacting Japanese training and openness to other influences.
“Eddie started as a very traditional chef,” Ping says her husband. He came to America when he was 18, working for various Japanese restaurants in New York, and as his experience grew he was influenced by other chefs and the lure of exotic combinations. And while I wouldn’t put the “fusion” label on Yuki Hana (even though it says so on the sign), Eddie mixes well-executed conventional Japanese dishes with flashes of pan-cultural delight.
Take the “Tofu Amazing” ($7). Blocks of firm tofu are stacked like beautiful Lego bricks and flavored with a coating of nutty sesame seeds and dried bonito flakes. The accent of melted mozzarella on top is an unusual ingredient that adds an unexpected layer of texture.
One of the most overlooked Japanese delicacies is the pancake, called okonomiyaki, which literally means “what you like, grilled.” A simple flapjack it is not, and what I like about Chef Eddie’s seafood pancake ($8) is the attention to preparation. A plate-filling serving of scallops, bits of shrimp and vegetables are mingled with light batter and glazed in spicy kimchee, fried to a crisp-edged pancake and served with a soy and ginger sauce.
My companion’s bento box ($22) was a shareable delight.Some of the finest tuna I’ve had in a while, luscious fatty salmon and firm, sweet pieces of mackerel made up the sashimi component, augmented with tiny crisp shumai dumplings, tuna roll and tender, flavorful teriyaki chicken.
Speaking of rolls, there are some interesting combinations of flavors on the maki menu. Sweet Heart Roll ($14) wraps spicy tuna, crunchy tempura eel, mango and fish roe inside a pink soy wrap with a dollop of sweet mango sauce for a nice play on textures and flavors. The France Sushi ($15) wasn’t quite as successful for me, with crab, tuna, salmon and avocado in a soy wrap, accented with pistachios and wasabi mayo. Too many similar bits.
The restaurant is bright and comfortable, with a water wall at the front door and a very visible sushi station where Chef Eddie plies his knife-wielding skills.
The sushi chef’s ancient tradition is to respect each ingredient and present the result as a gift to the diner. The modern method is to find new combinations of flavors, wherever they come from. By offering such an enjoyable menu, Yuki Hana honors both.
At Yuki Hana, usually humble miso soup is a three-dollar bit of kitchen magic—a slowly steeped broth of fermented soy and dashi stock highlighted by just enough tiny cubes of soft tofu, bits of green seaweed and sharp scallions. The salty soup reveals chewy threads of enoki mushrooms and is a contemplative start to a great meal.