Yona, Ballston

Eight years ago, 2 Amys had become entrenched with a reputation as Best Pizza in DC, and I went out on a limb in saying that Comet Ping Pong had surpassed it (inspired by JeffC and Waitman) – Carole Greenwood was making extraordinary pizzas, and I wrote that post with a great degree of trepidation, knowing that I was essentially kneecapping a legend in Peter Pastan, long-overlooked for a James Beard Award. This was confirmed, about as objectively as it could be confirmed, by the Fab Forno Smackdown.

Comet’s reign was short-lived, as Carole left the restaurant – at various times, the unofficial crown went to Ghibellina, the original RedRocks, Local 16 (really, Local 16), Pizzeria Orso, possibly Seventh Hill Pizza, and for quite awhile, Pupatella. If you asked me right now who had the best pizza in the DC area, I don’t think I could tell you. Nevertheless, even though Pupatella clearly had the best pizza in the area for quite some time (and still might), I just couldn’t bring myself to place it above Willow in the Ballston Dining Guide, because Willow – even though it didn’t necessarily make any individual item better than Pupatella’s pizza – was just a more “complete” restaurant. This is why The Inn at Little Washington is ranked in Bold despite not having the absolute best food in the area, and despite costing between $158-248 just for the food. Would I want to go there, as much as any single restaurant in the area, if someone else was paying? *Yes!*

“Where in the hell are you going with this, Don?”

Bear with me. Over the past ten years, U Street started becoming surpassed by the up-and-coming 14th Street, and a new restaurant strip had been born. The name “U Street” didn’t accurately describe where these new restaurants were sprouting up. “Midcity” was an ancient name, but had lost its meaning over the decades, and was just too big to describe this one strip – I decided that a search for a new name was in order, just to delineate the restaurants on 14th Street from those on U Street – after tossing the idea around for awhile, I decided on 14UP, because the new 14th Street restaurants were concentrated between U and P streets – anything south of P was generally considered Logan Circle (even though it’s Thomas Circle). Nobody uses this name but me, but people at least know what I’m referring to when I use it.

“Great. Now would you please tell us what you’re babbling about?”

Patience. In Sacramento, CA, people get into boats, and take a series of canals and bays, all the way down to San Francisco, where they just sit there, in McCovey Cove, waiting for a home run to come sailing out of AT&T Park, after which people dive into the bay, fighting each other like NBA players jostling for a rebound – it’s hard to justify, but suffice it to say it’s kind of a “social thing,” sort of like tailgating, but when you say “McCovey Cove” in San Francisco, people know *exactly* where you’re talking about – there’s absolutely no doubt.

“And, of course you realize you’re writing a post about Yona, right?”

I’m getting there. I went to Yona the other evening, and began my meal with what is apparently their most popular drink, the Lucy ($10), a delicious aperitif made with shochu, cardamaro, Asian pear, and a shiso leaf (which demonstrates the limitations of the coat-closet bar that Yona has – it’s actually pretty funny seeing a bartender shaking a drink inside the tiny little cubbyhole bar inside the door on the left, but Yona just has no room for a bar in the dining area – my recommendation to diners is to self-muddle their shoulda-been-muddled shiso leaf as best they can with their straw immediately upon receiving the drink – it really does add some nuance instead of just being decorative).

By looking at Yona’s fairly sophisticated drinks menu, you would have no idea about the bar, but take a look next time you go, and remember – it doesn’t really matter if a drink is shaken behind a $20,000 zinc bar, or inside a coat closet – the bartender was shaking just fine, and I liked the Lucy enough to have a second.

Yona is getting a lot of publicity for its small plates, and deservedly so (sitting by the pass, you can notice a *lot* of things, including the owner walking in to a hushed reverence among his staff and clientele). But I wanted some ramen on a clean palate, so, daring to be different, I went with a bowl TonkotsuShoyu Tare ($15) with chashu, kikurage, menma, beni shoga (which grows on a hill: the Beni Hill), negi, sesame seeds, nori, soft egg, and I just set a record for most hyperlinks in a dish description. All three ramens here are undoubtedly worth your attention, so I’ll just tell you that, stylistically, this bowl carries its supposedly ample fattiness with dexterity and finesse, and has a fairly deep, penetrating redolence of soy sauce – if that appeals to you (it absolutely appealed to me on this evening), don’t hesitate to try it. I very much look forward to trying the other two ramens as well.

Knowing I’d want a snack later, I got an order of Steamed Buns ($10) to take home, made with delicious, novel, oxtail katsu as their centerpiece, a fascinating fennel kimchi. and roasted garlic purée, these buns were wonderful, and left me searching for anything to quibble about (the price is on the upper end of the dial, but not off the dial).

“Well, this all sounds wonderful, but why all the feinting?”

Because Wilson Blvd. and N. Quincy Street is Nowhere-Land in terms of restaurants, or at least it was until recently; now, however, it’s a magnet and a mecca, and can no longer be considered simply “Ballston” (Ballston is the Metro stop and the mall). No, the southwest corner of this intersection has become more specific, just like 14th Street did over the past decade, and should be known as “Isabella Cove.” (*) And, for the same reasons that I had Willow ranked so highly in Ballston despite the obvious greatness of Pupatella, coverage for Yona in the Virginia Dining Guide is initiated in Italic, and based on the totality and completeness of the restaurant, I have ranked Yona as the #1 restaurant in Ballston. Congratulations to Yona’s opening team – you’re off to a fine start.

If you didn’t recognize me, you will soon enough, because I’m going to be a regular.

(*) “But why ‘Isabella Cove?'”

Because Isabella rows Salini. And don’t forget his scull and crew.

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