Oon Restaurant In Chicago

Randolph St.'s new Oon has some surprising stunners

We entered Oon as skeptics.

Its young chef, Matt Eversman, seemed relatively untried, with a brief tenure at Saigon Sisters as the only executive chef position on his résumé. He's never even been to Southeast Asia, after all.

But we left the new Randolph St. restaurant as believers–in Eversman's ambition, skill and innate understanding of Asian flavors.

At Oon, octopus is part of a composition as vivacious as it is unexpected, joined by Mexican chorizo, smoked strawberry purée and wheat berries dressed with fish-sauce vinaigrette ($13). The meaty tentacles are cooked confit with pho spices (star anise, cinnamon, coriander), grilled, and glazed with the sweet sauce traditionally found on Japanese eel.

Green papaya salad ($8) begins with a nod to the Vietnamese tradition, then veers sharply, confidently away with ripe mango, jicama and crisped pancetta.

Starters were the stars of our meal, and the reason we'll return. Entrees of smoked tofu ($16) and duck-foie gras pho ($16) lacked the balance and refinement of the smaller compositions.

House-made udon (Photo: Kaitlyn McQuaid)

Order chewy hand-rolled udon noodles instead, laced with crab and chile-lime vinaigrette and finished with delicate yuzu-dashi broth ($14), or grilled prawns with scallion sauce, togarashi, candied kumquats and punchy lemon purée ($12).

Both prove that fusion isn't necessarily a bad word.