From IHop to Oma Bap | Korean food is on the rise, and redefining casual dining
Story by Erik Skopil | Bibimbap photos by Chad Coleman
Most Oma Bap newcomers stare blankly at the menu. They aren’t quite sure what the Korean names of the dishes mean, or what they’re getting themselves into.
That’s exactly what owner Peter Pak hoped for.
Pak’s targeted demographic for his downtown restaurant: People with “little to no Korean experience.” He found a perfect fit in Bellevue. Upon opening in June, Oma Bap was the first to offer this type of ethnic fare in the area. But it may not be alone for long. As foodie and Epicurious.com editor-in-chief Tanya Steel put it, “Korean is America’s next big cuisine.”
In the Northwest, teriyaki, pho, and Din Tai Fung’s famous xiao long bow have all taken turns in the limelight. Why wouldn’t Oma Bap’s hearty Bibimbap dish be next?
These days, people are more open to trying different ethnic foods, specifically, Asian foods, Pak says. “We thought the timing was perfect.”
Oma Bap delivers Korean-inspired food in a laid-back atmosphere with Chipolte-like precision and speed.
Pak recommends their signature bibimbap (bee-beem-bop), rice served with a variety of vegetables, a sunny-side-up egg and your choice of protein, covered in a hot-pepper Gochujang sauce.
It’s the dish that won over the hearts of Bellevue High School kids, who gushed over its deliciousness in their school newspaper.
“One day there was a group staring at the menu and I convinced them to try it,” Pak says. “Then they brought in another friend, and another friend and another friend.”
Boasting almost an entire day’s helpings of veggies, Bibimbap is a healthy alternative to other quick and inexpensive fare.
“You probably wouldn’t eat all of these vegetables if they were separated on a plate.” Pak says. “Even though they’re all in there you don’t taste the individual flavors.”
He’s probably right. The conglomeration of greens, as well as oranges, whites, browns and purples, mixed with the marinated meats and Gochujang sauce, blend together harmoniously.
This taste is also the result of the diner’s turning and mixing of ingredients with chopsticks (or, if you must, a fork), to create a dish tailor-made to a specific palate. In fact, the restaurant’s website features instructional videos to teach the novice bibimbap connoisseur the perfect stir.
Ironically, Pak, a second-generation Korean American doesn’t have a culinary background. The Syracuse, New York native graduated with a marketing degree before starting his own construction and remodel business in Washington D.C.
Because of a struggling real estate market, he began to discuss possible business ventures with his two brothers. None of them had food backgrounds, but, the concept of a Korean-inspired reataraunt was seemingly too innovative not to pursue.
While plans to open a second location aren’t in the works, it seems the Korean trend will only pick up steam.
“The whole goal is to expand into a multiple-unit restaurant.” Pak says. “A handful of times a day, someone comes in and says ‘I’ve been to the other location’ or ‘This is from California, right?’ And I’ll say ‘No it’s established right here in Bellevue.’ People already assume that it’s a chain.”
For more information, go to omabap.com.