Since 2014, second-generation Chinese-American business partners Michael Lo and George Yu have opened three restaurants around Atlanta — Makan (now Taiyo Ramen) in Decatur, Suzy Siu’s Baos at Krog Street Market, and Double Dragon in Oakhurst.
At the end of 2017, Lo and Yu debuted their first OTP restaurant, Noona, a modern American steakhouse and oyster bar located in the burgeoning Parsons Alley development in downtown Duluth.
Like the other three Lo and Yu concepts, Noona presents contemporary takes on Asian cooking. But the Korean flavors on the menu tend to be more evident in the starters and sides.
For example, beef tartare is served with cured egg yolk, preserved yuzu, Korean chili and rice puffs. And grilled octopus is flavored with glazed shimeji mushrooms, fermented soybean, ssamjang, seaweed powder, and smoked black sesame.
Though it’s situated in the back corner, the heart of the restaurant is a DIY wood-fired grill constructed by Yu.
It’s where prime, dry-aged steaks from Chicago’s Meats by Linz are cooked over oak logs. And all of the other main dishes, including pan-roasted fish and duck breast, are prepared on the hearth, too.
The tidy space situated in a historic building that was originally a church, and later served as the City Hall and police station, mixes contemporary fixtures and nautical accents, including vintage life preservers from Korean ships.
The build-out includes an L-shaped cocktail bar, and an adjacent oyster bar, where you can watch as your order is being shucked.
“We wanted this to be very much a neighborhood restaurant, and we wanted it to be sized appropriately for that,” Lo said during a recent interview at Noona.
“There’s no gas in the restaurant, so we only cook off of hardwood, and serve from the raw bar. The grill is very old-world, and it’s very configurable, sort of like Legos. So it’s like fire and ocean.”
Oyster happy hour, celebrated every day from 4-6 p.m., features half-price oysters and other raw bar specials. And so far, it’s been a big hit with the locals.
“We’ve really been surprised at how well the oyster program has been received,” Lo said. “Because if you think about this area, besides Noble Fin, we’re about the only restaurant that does a daily changing menu of freshly shucked oysters.”
Beyond the distinctive aspects of the menu and the cooking methods, Lo and Yu agree that Noona is a step up in scale from their previous projects.
“George has always worked in fine dining, and we’ve always joked that there’s this preconceived notion of what true Asian food can be priced at,” Lo said, “so we love the fact that we get to charge people normal prices here.
“We’re basically a steakhouse and oyster bar with Korean influences, like Marcel has French influences or Davio’s has Italian influences. As far as the bar, we have a big focus on wine and brown spirits.”
Speaking to more specifics of the menu, Yu explained that he’s using Asian flavors as a sort of “gateway” to things he may want to introduce after Noona is open for a while.
“We’re doing Sapelo Island clams in dashi broth, which is a very Korean dish,” Yu said. “Usually they just use oysters and broth. But we use a little shiso butter with some fresh herbs. And we do a sous vide pork and cabbage wrap that has shiitake mushrooms, shrimp powder and black sesame.”
In some ways, Yu is having even more fun playing with traditional steakhouse sides, and using Asian techniques in many other dishes.
“The sides are kind of basic, but they’re not basic,” he said. “Even something like our roasted broccoli has seaweed salt, lime zest and sesame oil all tossed together.
“We use a very Asian method for the chicken, where we brine it, then we steam it, air-dry it and let the skin crisp up, and then we cook it in a cast-iron skillet over the fire. But a lot of the menu is super familiar to people who might not want to go to a Korean restaurant. It’s not too crazy for them.”
3550 Lawrenceville St., Duluth. 678-404-5001, noonaduluth.com.
More images from a First Look at Noona