No restaurateur seems to have his finger on the pulse of Asian-food obsessives better than Mike Tran. Restaurant fanboys and girls know Tran as part of the team behind Houston staples Aka Sushi House on Kirby and Tiger Den in Dun Huang Plaza. Now the strip center on Clarewood Drive that houses his restaurants Mein and Night Market (only temporarily closed for some refinements, so don’t worry) has become a triple threat with the opening of Ohn Korean Eatery. The Korean “dive bar” pays homage to the soju bar culture Tran enjoyed during his extensive travels through Korea.
Tran has created an intimate underground club feel that gives the space a kinetic energy. We especially liked the call buttons at each table, just like at Korean barbecue spots, when you need service. This is a beautifully designed restaurant, with a sense of privacy that doesn't eclipse the fact that you are part of a larger environment; connected below, but secluded above.
The floor managers are happy to go over the different types of both bottled soju and the carafes of soju bartenders prepare in-house (ranging from yogurt-flavored to cucumber chile). Based on our love of cold sake, our party settled on a bottle of the grapefruit-flavored soju over a carafe. Since soju is on the sweeter side, it sneaks up on novice drinkers, so newbies should exercise caution. Ohn also features a variety of non-soju cocktails on a curated menu made with the help of Chris Frankel, who recently remade the Cane Rosso cocktail list. One of the standouts is his take on a traditional Old Fashioned made with Japanese whiskey.
The menu is divided into predictable sections including snacks, soups, rice and noodle dishes, but the dishes stray just enough from what you might expect. The corn cheese, a classic westernized Korean side, is upgraded from it usual combo of creamy sweet corn and mozzarella with bonito flakes and lime, all baked together in a skillet. The crisp-outside, juicy-inside garlic-soy wings are flavored with jalapeño but aren't excessively hot.
There are two barbecue dishes on the menu. The very shareable short ribs (L.A. galbi) aren't too different from what you'll find at Korean restaurants around the city. The smaller portion of Seoul brisket belongs as much in the realm of Texas barbecue as Korean and is served as such, complete with two dinner rolls.
The pork rinds arrive at the table still sizzling and come with a spiced cream dipping sauce. If you are a pork rind fan, these are some of the best in town. We were less enchanted by the Kream Spaghetti, surprisingly bland despite being dressed in a kimchi cream sauce with a slew of shellfish.
There's only one dessert on the menu, Ice Cream Krispies. Composed of honey-butter Rice Krispies topped with vanilla ice cream, the best way to explain this dish is as sort of deconstructed Rice Krispie Treat with ice cream. It's simple, yet delicious, and the lightness works really well after such a heavy meal (come to Ohn with an appetite). After a little over two hours of drinking and eating, our bill was quite reasonable. And when we headed into the night, a nearby table of diners were just starting their Army Soup. We'll have to try the mix of ramen, spam and baked beans in a kimchi broth next time.