DINING: Omoni is Korean on the quick

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Think of Omoni (12710 N. Meridian St., Carmel, 810-46032) as the Peter, Paul and Mary of Korean food.

A popularizer rather than a trailblazer, it brings sincere if not particularly creative pleasure with minimal risk. While not inauthentic, the food is basic, making up for its lack of street cred with accessibility. And, in the process, it might open the door to more complex experiences elsewhere.

Omoni’s physical setup recalls your neighborhood Qdoba—a corridor of sorts along one wall leads to an ordering station. You place your basic order and work your way down the line for add-ins such as daikon, carrots and sprouts, in both standard and spicy variations. You can either take your cold dish to your table or have your heated version brought to you (but be prepared to add $1.50 and add 15 minutes to your wait).

The challenge at Omoni is figuring out the subtle differences—if any—among its offerings. 

A Bibimbap ($8.49), for instance, is a rice bowl with marinated grilled beef, spicy pork or mildly seasoned chicken (all well worth trying—a little sesame oil helped to bring the chicken to fuller life). Five veggies of your choice are included—plus a fried egg, which could have been a bit runnier—and sauce.

But a Create Your Own is the same thing, although you can change it to a Noodle Bowl ($8.29-$8.49). The Korean Taco Trio ($8.95 or $3.09-$3.27 each) is pretty much the same thing, only wrapped in a lackluster tortilla. And a Bulgogi Plate ($8.97), Kalbi Plate ($9.95) and Korean Chicken Plate ($8.45) offer the same on, of course, a plate. Kimchi is an extra $1.79.

Unnecessarily complicated, I say. Instead, my dining companion suggested, why not just make it: 1. Pick a bowl or a tortilla wrap, 2. Pick rice or noodles, 3. Pick a meat, 4. Pick five veggies, 5. Eat?

That simple, step-by-step guidance would cut down on counter questions, reduce headaches, and result in the same satisfying, filling tray of food. Further, if part of the mission of Omoni is to introduce newbies to Korean food, simple labels would be helpful and cut down on question time.•

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