My first look visit to Ohn was completely spontaneous and organically driven by the urge to find the hottest spot in town. There's a low-key strip center at Clarewood near Corporate, set in the backdrop of Bellaire's Asiatown lined with hundreds of restaurants, bakeries, retail shops and grocery stores, that is home to a string of new(ish) joints from the mastermind of contemporary Asian cuisine, Mike Tran.
Unbeknownst to us, we arrived at the perfect time, a few minutes after 6 p.m. on a Friday night. A feverish line appeared out of nowhere just moments after we were seated. The heavy wooden door opens to reveal a neon-lit den of semi-private booths that are brilliantly constructed with a shifting wall that slides effortlessly from one end to the other to create spaces suitable for parties of two, four, six or eight.
Ohn Korean Eatery is a soju and food bar. Items on the menu are grouped accordingly by beverages, snacks, soup, wok, chicken with two barbecue options and one house dessert.
Tran calls Ohn a Korean dive bar, but the term "dive bar" mostly conjures up an image of a less-than-savory, poorly kept joint where drinks are cheap and service means there's a bartender on duty. Ohn is so much more than that.
There are several soju cocktails on the menu. We ordered a carafe of lemon perilla soju to share. It's made with fresh lemon, sesame leaf, sprite and soju, which is a clear, distilled beverage originating in South Korea, usually containing an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 16 to 53 percent. Soju is usually made of rice, but can be produced from other starches, like potatoes, sweet potatoes or tapioca.
Thanks to Instagram, we ordered the utterly fantastic and weird corn-cheese, composed of creamy sweet corn and a mega-layer of mozzarella and finished with fluttering bonito flakes, green onions and lime.
It was difficult to pick an entrée. Every dish sounded interesting and new. The tongdak is listed as fried chicken with french fries, radish pickle, soy jalapeño and spicy slaw. The chicken was more roasted than fried, yet the skin was crisp and the meat was very moist and tender.
We also tried the jeyuk bokkeum, rough cuts of pork stir-fried in kimchi spices, onion, carrots and scallions. Banchan (pickled side dishes) is delivered to the table as a snack. Ohn's banchan includes house-made kimchi, spicy pickled cucumbers and white cabbage slaw with a light and creamy sesame dressing.
Tran's nouveau vision of an Asian eatery, catered more toward satisfying the whims and whistles of millennials and foodies, is rooted in authentic southeast Asian inspiration. Ohn Korean Eatery sits at the easternmost corner of the strip center, where his other joints (Mein and Night Market) have debuted over the past year. Mein is a fantastic Cantonese restaurant with one of the best wonton noodle soup presentations in the city, and Night Market just recently closed for rebranding; Tran told the Press that the Indian-forward menu was just not finding an audience (in this specific area), so he chose to close up shop temporarily to change the menu and redefine the space. Tran says Night Market will reopen soon with a Thai menu.
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Follow the line of tenacious ramen-loving fans to Tiger Den, Tran's other hit across Bellaire, situated in the Dun Huang Plaza. Next door in the same strip, we'll soon see Laki Fish. Tran says the new poke space and menu are ready and his team is just waiting for him to pull the trigger on an opening date.
These days, Tran spends a majority of his chef time in the kitchen at Ohn, making sure the soft opening phase goes well. Judging from the hordes of diners waiting outside, I think the Korean eatery is off to a great start.
Ohn Korean Eatery, 9630 Clarewood, Suite A16
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and closed on Monday