Noksu Is NYC's Most Unique Underground Dining Experience

Noksu New York Interior
Noksu New York Interior - Brynne Levy

Sometimes the most unique dining spaces are hidden in plain sight. Such is the case with Nōksu, one of New York City's newest, and perhaps most unique, underground dining experiences. Set to open September 21, Nōksu is the brainchild of Bobby Kwak and Joseph Ko. The two veterans of the NYC bar, lounge, and nightclub scene opened Baekjeong — one of the late Anthony Bourdain's favorite haunts for Korean barbecue — back in 2015. Their latest venture, Nōksu, is located just a block from Baekjeong, but finding it might be a challenge. That's because the entrance is located underground — as in under the ground. In an interesting twist, the business partners are opening a Korean-influenced, fine-dining restaurant inside an NYC subway station. Sounds like a bit of a reach, but once you know the backstory, it all makes sense.

Long before the pandemic shut down the world, Kwak was living in New York's Little Italy neighborhood while traveling back and forth to Koreatown via the subway. He noticed a barbershop and newspaper stand at the 34th Street-Herald Square station, but didn't think much of it at first. Then he saw "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a documentary about a real-life Michelin-star sushi master chef who opened a 10-seat sushi-only restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. The seed of an idea began to take root. What if the barbershop/newsstand space was for rent? Maybe he and Ko could do something similar at the Herald Square station. Then the pandemic hit.

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Portal To A World Away

Noksu entrance, chef Dae Kim
Noksu entrance, chef Dae Kim - Nōksu

The partners were able to negotiate a lease for the underground space before the Covid lockdown — turned out the barber was ready to retire after a multi-decade run — and they set their sights on opening a sushi restaurant. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. "In 2019, our original plan was fine-dining sushi omakase with a chef's counter in a cool, hidden space," Kwak told Tasting Table, noting that as pandemic-related restrictions eased, he and Ko began to reimagine their restaurant. "My partner and I felt we needed to do something within our Korean culture and roots." Which brings us to Nōksu — an upscale Korean-influenced dining experience in an underground venue.

Located one flight of stairs down from the 32nd Street and Broadway NE corner access to the subway, the entrance to Nōksu has a speakeasy-esque, almost clandestine, vibe marked only by a discreet plaque and a silver keypad on an otherwise unremarkable black door. Entry is via a key code Nōksu sends patrons on the day of their reservation. The intrigue continues as the door swings open, revealing a hidden space worlds away from the commotion of a busy NYC subway platform. Designed by Claire Soojin Kim, the 12-seat bar is a reflection of "noksu," a term Kwak told Tasting Table means, "A clear stream of water flowing from the valley." It's sleek and calm and toney all at the same time.

The Magic Within

Noksu chefs Aaron Whittle, Dae Kim
Noksu chefs Aaron Whittle, Dae Kim - Brynne Levy

Chef Dae Kim, a young chef Kwak describes as a "powerhouse" is on board as executive chef. Kim, who was previously affiliated with Thomas Keller's Per Se, has planned a 15-course seafood-forward menu created to showcase a modern interpretation of Korean cuisine. "He brings his knowledge of Korean, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican cooking styles into one," Kwak said of Kim. Select items from a sample menu provided by Nōksu include abalone in a sea lettuce shell with Green Goddess emulsion; grits with squid, Carolina Gold rice, Parmigiano, and okra; Millbrook venison, corn, morel, beet, gochujang, and shiso; and cotton candy grapes, Tahitian vanilla, and white chocolate. The 15-course menu is priced at $225 per person.

Nōksu also offers a complete bar and an extensive wine list, in addition to a curated mocktail menu featuring Korean tea-based beverages. An optional wine pairing adds $175 per person ($95 per person for an alcohol-free pairing). The restaurant allows BYO (as long as the bottle is not on the list) for a $100 per bottle corkage fee. There are two seatings nightly — 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. — and a separate seven-seat dining area accommodates private parties. "We wanted to create a unique hidden gem location, from walking down a crazy, hectic subway entrance to opening the door and entering into a room filled with tranquility," Kwak told Tasting Table, adding. "That's a unique and amazing dining experience located under the streets of Manhattan." Mission accomplished.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.