Hillman City’s Archipelago Restaurant Explores the Filipino-American Experience Through Food
'We want to be able to do more than just feed, but provide context and provide history'
By Chelsea Lin
April 16, 2019
Archipelago, open since December, is more than just a restaurant; dinner here, more than just a meal. It’s a story, a lesson, a dance—a multicourse exploration of the history and flavors of the Philippines, translated through Pacific Northwest ingredients and the personal Filipino-American experience of husband-and-wife owners Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid. When you’re there—which requires planning ahead, as the eight counter seats are only available by pre-paid reservation, at two seatings Wednesdays through Saturdays—you feel like you’re really getting something special for the price: $126 including gratuity; beer/wine or juice pairing optional (and additional cost).
If this all sounds a bit too precious, let me reassure you, it’s not. First and foremost, the food—which will vary from night to night—is excellent. Verzosa is a former chef in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine kitchen, and though his narrow, open kitchen at Archipelago doesn’t have the same scope of gadgets that Myhrvold’s kitchen holds, his command of cooking techniques is admirable. On the night I visited, it started with the first bite of pillow-soft pandesal—a Filipino bread roll served here with salmon butter and sustainable sturgeon caviar—and continued through chewy handmade noodles, complex sinigang broth made sour with local cranberries instead of the traditional tamarind, perfectly seared dry-aged rib-eye and a parade of seasonal foods that touched every taste bud.
Each dish comes with a story—sometimes told as the dish is being served, sometimes recounted after you’ve already marveled at the taste—about its origins, the liberties Verzosa is taking with ingredients in order to keep everything local and how the food being served is rooted in personal history. Manuguid’s day job (as if plating and presenting during dinner service isn’t enough) is in user experience at Nordstrom’s corporate office, and she has curated not just the restaurant’s cozy, cool-toned space, but (together with Verzosa) also the dinner’s experiential element: when and how stories unfold and the formally orchestrated presentation of dishes. They want guests to interact with them, the food and the space; customer service here is taken seriously.
TASTE OF THE ISLANDS: Three of the dishes you’ll regularly find on the multi-course tasting menu (clockwise from left): handmade noodles, pandesal and their riff on sinigang
Manuguid says they’re the first to admit that a high-end Filipino restaurant concept is risky; she says, now laughing, that they weren’t sure the community would embrace Archipelago. But if reviews and online reservations are any indication, so far, the restaurant has found plenty of fans. What’s being shared feels so authentic and specific to this couple (yet also representative of the community) that you can’t help but fall in love with what they’re offering. “We want to be able to do more than just feed, but provide context and provide history,” Manuguid says. “That’s why it’s so risky, but that’s also why we decided that was a risk we were willing to take.” Adds Verzosa: “What’s important to us is having delicious food first and then having the stories, giving you context to what you’re eating.”
Archipelago, Hillman City, 5607 Rainier Ave. S