"Han what?" said the waitress inside The Ocean complex. "We're looking for the entrance to Han Oak," we said. "It's Peter Cho's restaurant, and it should be at 511 NE 24th." But, despite Han Oak being just steps away, she hadn't heard of it.
Han Oak is the multi-use restaurant space opened in January by big-time chef Peter Cho. Until recently, Cho worked closely with New York mega-chef April Bloomfield at her Michelin-starred restaurants, The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and today, he labors behind an unmarked entrance located in the rear of a small parking lot, between 24th and Meatballs and The Pie Spot. Once inside, you find one of the most contemporary restaurant spaces in the city—at least when the sun is shining.
There's a grassy courtyard that doubles as a lounge area and waiting room, with a vintage couch and chairs set up on the grass. There's a roll up door that opens the restaurant onto the courtyard. And now, there are more regularly scheduled Korean brunches and barbecue dinners.
Han Oak seems to be settling in. Brunch is held every—or nearly every—Sunday, and dinner brings the barbecue Fridays and Saturdays. Cho says this format should continue through at least July. He's opening up more seats for brunch and dinner, too. And a reservation buys you a place but not a time: Just show up and wait for the next available table in that sweet courtyard.
We're keeping it intimate and quiet because it's our home.
"We're keeping it intimate and quiet because it's our home," Cho tells Eater. "Before, we only had 12 reservations for brunch, and now we're open every Sunday for as many reservations as we can serve. For dinner, we have around 32 reservations a night."
In addition to the Korean brunch, which delivers a platter of dishes, like dumpling soup, four styles of kimchi, and that blood cake with a duck fat-fried egg, Han Oak does barbecue, and Cho is using a mashup of American and Korean barbecue techniques.
Working with beef, Cho says he uses a "pretty standard" dry rub, but he gives it a Korean twist by adding spices like perilla seed, nori, and gochugaru chili flakes. The beef sits with the dry rub for about 48 to 72 hours, and then it's smoked for six hours.
When you say Korean barbecue, people usually think of table-top grilling.
"When you say Korean barbecue, people usually think of tabletop grilling," says Cho, "whereas American barbecue is usually smoked meat. Also, Korean barbecue doesn't usually have a rub. It often has more of a soy-based marinade."
For dinner, the barbecue is sliced and served with a lettuce wrap, perilla, chrysanthemum, and a slaw—another nod toward American barbecue traditions. And this is just part of the platter: You'll also find koji-salt-baked pork belly, noodles, a pickle plate, and other elements, plus an a la carte menu with Cho's reputed fried chicken and other dishes. Beer, wine, and sake are also available. Dinner runs $35 and does not include gratuity, and it is offered from 6 to 9 p.m. Grab reservations on the website.
The special dinners and private events haven't stopped at Han Oak, and Cho says to expect more pop-ups and dinner series taking over the restaurant on a regular basis in the near future. Most recently, Nodoguro and the LaMama pop-up occupied the space.