Chef Aaron Verzosa has always been fascinated with flying over the Philippines and soaking in the aerial view of the chain of islands. That experience inspired the name he and his wife, Amber Manuguid, chose for their new Hillman City restaurant, Archipelago. "We didn't choose a Filipino name because we're not Filipino—we're Filipino American," he said. "We chose a word that resonates with us and also speaks to the dynamics of a restaurant where you can see the different cooking stations (or islands) that operate independently but are all connected and working toward the same goal."
Verzosa is no stranger to Seattle's culinary scene, having worked in the research and development lab at Modernist Cuisine in Bellevue, and Basque eatery Harvest Vine before that. He'll bring that experimental mind-set to Archipelago, where patrons get to spend an evening sampling a 10- to 12-course tasting menu they're unlikely to find anywhere else. Verzosa is exploring ways to re-create Filipino dishes by switching out building-block ingredients that might need to be imported, and replacing them with Pacific Northwest provisions.
"When you think of traditional Filipino dishes like pancit, they're usually made with a rice-based noodle, but we don't have a lot of rice in Seattle," he said. Instead, they'll be marrying local ingredients with traditional concepts, like using an egg-based noodle created with Washington wheat instead of a rice-based noodle, or substituting local Granny Smith apples for tamarind to mirror that sour taste. "Filipino cuisine has been built on generations," he said. "We want to build on that line and open the windows that allow for progression. We've learned a lot through travel and have experimented with indigenous ingredients, and we want to keep that quality and culture while infusing our dishes with food that's unique to our home in Seattle."
Verzosa says each course at Archipelago will respect traditional Filipino cuisine while using modern techniques and seasonal Pacific Northwest staples. The tasting menu will focus on some of his and Manuguid's favorite meals, like adobo, a Filipino dish often centered on pork or chicken that simmers in a reduced sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and bay leaves, or a thicker sauce made with coconut milk and chilies. Or pinakbet—a hearty, savory, plant-based Filipino dish that incorporates local squash, eggplant, and sweet potatoes. They will also be serving beer, wine, and fresh juices squeezed from melons and other Eastern Washington fruits.
The restaurant—which was set to open in late September, but had its actual debut on December 1—will serve two tastings a night (at 5:30 and 8 p.m.) Wednesday through Saturday. The intimate space seats 14 and is open-concept, so everyone can see what's cooking. "My wife and I were very intentional about setting up the space to feel like you're in someone's home," said Verzosa. "Sitting in the kitchen and taking in that energy is what drew me to cooking, and I'm excited to share that story and experience with the community."