OON Hits Restaurant Row With A Bang, Not A Whimper
By Melissa Wiley in Food on Jul 9, 2013 8:20PM
An acronym for “out of nowhere,” OON is Chef Matt Eversman’s claim to creative autonomy. The name may suggest a hostile alien species set to colonize a sci-fi planet earth, but the latest restaurant to hit west Randolph springs from clear terrestrial roots, drawing on Eversman’s tenure at Saigon Sisters and his long love of Southeast Asian cuisine. Asian sensibilities inform OON’s tone more than its menu, however. You’re free to order the duck breast pho, but your waiter will more likely steer you toward the grilled short ribs or rack of lamb instead, considering these dishes—trademark Americana rarefied into an elegant Eastern aesthetic—a truer representation of where this restaurant from nowhere is really headed.
Eversman’s concept, contemporary Asian-American what-have-you, mirrors the appeal of the abstract paintings blanketing the west wall. It's fuzzy but fun. The real pleasure, though, as some say of the devil, is in the details, and you quickly get the feeling few have been overlooked. Flavors curated for their Eastern intensity commingle smoothly in Western staples like steamed mussels and pork roulade, distilled into sleek servings that still manage to feed a righteous hunger. The décor likewise makes an art of simplicity while coloring outside its industrial contours just enough to remind you this isn’t an upscale nail salon. A sprawling chandelier of natural wood highlights the speared tips of swaying ornamental grasses. Slim tables align with precision but provide plenty of space to pass in between.
The menu, meanwhile, divides into small and large plates that you’re encouraged to share. The wait staff recommends you order at least one small and large per person, a quantity that answered us well and left room for dessert. For small plates, we tried the green papaya salad, tossed with mango, jicama, cucumber, honey-ginger nuoc cham, peanuts, fried shallots, and sliced pork belly ($8), and the grilled octopus, seasoned with unagi glaze, wheatberries, fennel, fried chorizo, and smoked strawberry puree ($13), which arrived within 7-10 minutes of each other. In a room where tables are lean, if more accommodating for shared plates than, say, those of Blackbird, timing matters. And as one of those people born with two too many elbows, we appreciated the fact that the kitchen didn’t flood our svelte surface area with more than two plates at a time, putting us in no immediate danger of knocking our wine into the next lap over.
The octopus confit arrived first in two discrete portions. Typically we avoid this mollusk outside its natural habitat, only because those tentacles can sometimes taste a little too like spare tires with suction cups, but here they took on the succulence of steak, offset with a tart and tangy mélange of some of our favorite garnishes. We soon finished our share, sans any rubbery aftertaste and making for our favorite dish of the evening. The salad, fresh and summery as it was, paled—as most salads worth their salt would—in comparison. We also could have done without the added weight of the pork, which overburdened the quieter burst of fruit.
As an entrée, our waiter recommended the scallops, with white polenta, bok choy, blueberry, cocoa nibs, and almonds ($24), but we enjoyed the quail, prepared with hoison, coconut-ginger fried rice, maitake mushrooms, fried Thai basil, and homemade sriracha ($18), substantially more. It’s admittedly been a long while since we’ve sampled any poultry besides stock-and-trade chicken, and the quail tasted like a juicier iteration of duck, splayed in neat proportions across the best sriracha we’ve tasted in living memory. The butter-seared scallops, meanwhile, should please any seafood lover with a slight sweet tooth, though Eversman wisely keeps the blueberry and cocoa in check, in quantities just large enough to tempt you even closer toward dessert, for which we tried the seven-layer banana and chocolate cake ($7).
Jon McDaniel, former sommelier and manager at The Purple Pig, has crafted an extensive wine selection that dominates the drink menu, which also sports a respectable showing of beer, cocktails, and sake. Staff are eager to suggest pairings, as they were to orchestrate a meticulously timed experience that still feels relaxed and organic. Visiting a restaurant on its opening weekend rarely affords a fair appraisal of the full flowering that is to come. You have to expect hiccups, maybe a burp that echoes across the room here and there. But all we heard were quiet licking of lips, perhaps a satisfied smack from the far back table. Wherever OON came from, its landing has been a smooth one.
OON is located at 802 W. Randolph St.