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The black granite counter at Nōksu, a Korean-influenced fine-dining restaurant that opens in September 23 in a New York subway station. Photo: Nōksu

A New York subway station is the newest Korean food destination – at fine-dining Nōksu in 34th Street-Herald Square expect edible flowers and minimalist decor

  • Nōksu, a Korean-influenced fine-dining restaurant about to open in New York, is on the mezzanine level of the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station
  • A monochrome minimalist interior will greet diners sitting down for Dae Kim’s 15-course menu that’s big on edible flowers and whimsical presentation

If you are standing on the corner of 32nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, New York, there are several directions you can go to quickly find something good to eat.

Walk east, and take your pick of innumerable Korean dining options, from dumplings to barbecue to bubble tea. Go a few streets downtown and you will have Mediterranean mezze at chef Jose Andrés’ newest New York restaurant, Zaytinya. A few blocks uptown is one of the city’s seminal dining rooms for meat eaters, Keens Steakhouse.

Soon, diners will be able to follow an unexpected path to one of the city’s best new big-deal meals: they can walk down the subway stairs and into Nōksu, a new, Korean-influenced fine-dining spot.

New Yorkers and tourists will be familiar with this well-trafficked entrance to the 34th Street-Herald Square station – before the pandemic, the station ranked as the third busiest on the city’s subway network with more than 39 million passengers per year.

Nōksu, which is slated to open on 21 September, 2023, is on what counts as the mezzanine level of the station.

The black granite counter at Nōksu. Photo: Nōksu

The space has been transformed into a bright dining room with a minimalist kitchen that could double as a lab, and walls decorated in black, white and grey. Claire Kim Soojin’s design of the space was inspired by Korean monochrome ink-and-wash paintings.

A long, 12-seat black granite counter anchors the room. Behind the counter is chef Dae Kim, who has the look of a BTS band member and a résumé that includes stints at the three-Michelin-star Per Se and at the modern Chinese hideaway Silver Apricot – both in New York.

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At Naro, which opened last autumn as part of the Rockefeller Centre rock star restaurant line-up, Junghyun and Ellia Park offer an eight-course, US$165 menu centred on the food of their homeland.

The couple have got worldwide attention for their town house restaurant Atomix, where the US$395 menu goes deep on Korean cuisine; it is currently ranked No 8 on the World’s 50 Best List. At the two-year-old Mari, a tasting of kimbap – most of them filled with high-end seafood – starts at US$145.
A Nōksu dish called Grits. Photo: Nōksu

We got a preview of Kim’s restaurant and a chance to sample some of the 15-course menu that will start at US$225, not including tax and tip.

I had dreamed of arriving at Nōksu via the subway entrance, but the black iron gate was still locked when I went to check it out. So I went a more conventional way: the restaurant is based on the lower level of the Martinique New York hotel on Broadway, part of Curio Collection by Hilton.

Walking across the hotel lobby and down a staircase will also get you to the restaurant.

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From my stool, I watched Kim work with tweezers, arranging fried-potato slices into thin petals to top a delicate egg custard, known as gyeran-jjim in Korea, and a stew of chewy surf clams in a green herb sauce. It looked like a golden chrysanthemum.

The chef’s obsession with flowers also results in a dish he serves near the beginning of the meal, of Japanese horsehair crab in a tartlet that looks like a flower.

Kim was born outside Seoul, but started his culinary career in the US, learning from cookbooks. His dishes are notably stunning, even at a moment when it is impossible to find a chef who is not paying attention to how their dish looks.

A Nōksu dish called Oyster. Photo: Nōksu

He buys every tiny edible flower he can get his hands on, and he and his three-person kitchen crew spend hours prepping ingredients for whimsical presentations: a dish of amadai (tilefish) fillet to look like a fish diving into the water, for instance.

The prep work belies the fact that Kim is cooking without gas – because of its location, the kitchen cooks on induction burners and with a combi-oven, and has several raw preparations.

In a later dish, Kim spotlights slices of mackerel, Korea’s favourite fish, served warm with nutty celtuce and a sweet, sake-spiked carrot sauce. And he has a hand roll of venison, in a nod to the meat-heavy Korean diet, packed with herbs and accompanied by beet gochujang, the intense, all-purpose Korean sauce.

For dessert, he offers a frozen flan delicately flavoured with honey and dill pollen and topped with a sorbet made with chamoe, the Korean melon.

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The wine programme features bottles from cool climates like Germany, Austria and California’s North Coast, to balance the subtle flavours of the menu; a pairing will go for US$175.

There are non-alcoholic pairing options that run the gamut from booze-free cocktails – some made with Korean ingredients like woojeong green tea – to bottles like the German Kolonne Null sparkling non-alcoholic wine; the non-alcoholic pairing will cost US$95.

Diners will need a keypad code to get into the restaurant via the subway entryway, says Joseph Ko, a co-owner of Nōksu with Bobby Kwak, who also has the popular bi-level Baekjeong Korean BBQ spot nearby.

The subway entrance to Nōksu. Photo: Nōksu

They are well aware that the station entrance will also be accessible to people in the subway who are not necessarily looking to sit down and pay for fine dining. They are outfitting the entrance with security cameras, and a Ring doorbell system to see the guests at the door, and considering a security guard.

Even with the keypad interruption, it is an entrance that is guaranteed to delight diners looking for gimmicks to go with their meal, when the black gates are finally rolled up.