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RESTAURANTS • First Person
Even as the stretch of Broadway north of 23rd Street has come up in the world, Herald Square? Not so much. It remains one of the least appealing places in Manhattan, ranking just above its decrepit subway station. Yet there we were last week, taking the stairs down to Nōksu, which sits behind a black door with a keypad lock.
Before the descent, our primary frame of reference for NYC’s subway-vestibule eating and drinking establishments (excluding major transit hubs) was Siberia, a legendarily divey dive bar originally located in the 1/9 stop at 50th and Broadway. There was nothing “tasting menu” about that place, Nonetheless, it was top of mind as we typed in our secret code and unlocked the door to Nōksu.
Nōksu is the opposite of Siberia. Through the keypadded door (the code changes daily) lies a sleek 13-seat black and white counter with plush bar seats. To the left, a spotless open kitchen, where chef Dae Kim and team prepare a 12-course, seafood-centric, Korean-inflected tasting menu.
If you’re the sort of person who hears about a new $225 tasting menu and gets flushed, you should go to Nōksu: press-friendly narrative notwithstanding, this is a serious entrant into the upper echelon of NYC counter dining. (Among the best courses: an oyster swimming in broth with fluke and prawn, and surf clam, buried in hen egg custard, scallion emulsion, and caviar.)
Even if you pointedly avoid this kind of thing, perhaps Nōksu should be the exception to your rule. As a New York City restaurant, Nōksu is very good. As a New York CIty experience, it’s excellent. Stepping from a battered and bruised subway station tunnel into a pristine jewel box of a restaurant: Not something you’ll forget anytime soon. (Also, “I had dinner recently in the Herald Square subway station,” a top-notch conversation starter in just about any situation.)
One missed connection: the discordant stream of ’80s pop and rock that didn’t pair with the youthful enthusiasm of Kim’s cooking. By course 12, we were ready to leave Steve Winwood behind for the evening. But that was okay, we had a train to catch, right outside the door, and back into the bowels of the city. –Josh Albertson