New York

Executive chef Nate Kuester and sous chef Jonathan Moon prepare dishes at NARO. All photos by Gary He for Resy

The RundownNew York

With NARO in Rockefeller Center, the Atomix Team Has More Big Dreams For Korean Cuisine

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It’d be silly to bet against Ellia and Junghyun “J.P.” Park, who have had the kind of whirlwind year that restaurant owners dream of. Their flagship, Atomix, was named the 33rd best in the world, the highest such ranking for a restaurant in the United States. The duo also received the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality award, and more recently, Atomix retained its two-star Michelin rating.

This is a far cry from 2016, when the couple opened Atoboy. Back then, New York City’s Korean restaurants outside of tabletop grill concepts were barely worth a mention. Now, there are dozens, with several earning the kinds of accolades that were only reserved for European cooking and high-end sushi joints just half a decade earlier.

With the wind at their backs, the Parks are now opening up NARO on the lower concourse of Rockefeller Center. The restaurant, which is now accepting reservations for the opening on November 1 and beyond, leans heavily towards fine dining and focuses on centuries-old and traditional Korean cooking, with flavor profiles that are difficult to find anywhere in this country.

“With this cuisine, Chicago may not be ready for it, L.A. may not be ready for it. Even five years ago, New York may not have been ready for it,”  chef J.P. tells his staff. “They would be like, ‘What are we eating? We don’t recognize this.’”

“They are ready now.”

Here, then, are five key things to know about NARO.

Pumpkin Jjim, the final savory course of the vegetarian tasting menu. All photos by Gary He for Resy
Executive chef Nate Kuester and pastry chef Celia Lee.

1. NARO is the fine dining restaurant at Rockefeller Center

In an effort to reimagine the food and beverage offerings at Rockefeller Center, developer Tishman Speyer enlisted in a who’s who of downtown cool restaurant groups to start up new concepts. The first, Lodi by Ignacio Mattos, received a positive but skeptical review from the New York Times in January. (Is Lodi too good for Rockefeller Center?) Less than a year later, the most recent addition, Le Rock by Frenchette owners Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, notched a glowing three stars from the same critic. JJ Johnson’s FIELDTRIP is open, and coming soon are Greg Baxtrom’s Five Acres, and Jupiter, by the team behind King.

But when it comes to fine dining aspirations, NARO is in a class of its own, with a tasting menu of Korean cooking that is rarely seen elsewhere in the country. This is unmistakably formal: there is no shortage of tweezers in the kitchen, and the front of house managers closely scrutinize the exact placement of plates on the table. (Items should be angled at the 2 o’clock position, in case you’re wondering.)

While Atomix’s award-winning tasting menu is chef J.P. Park’s canvas and can never be replicated, NARO is positioned as more of an Atomix-lite, with a focus on traditional Korean dishes, than it is to the more casual Atoboy.

With this cuisine, Chicago may not be ready for it, L.A. may not be ready for it. Even five years ago, New York may not have been ready for it…

They are ready now.
— Junghyun “J.P.” Park

 2. In addition to the tasting menu, there are prix fixe and a la carte options

NARO is divided into several spaces, each featuring its own menu. The 34-seat dining room’s core offering is a signature tasting ($195), with the option to swap into a vegetarian menu, a first for the restaurant group.

Outside the restaurant on the rink level on Rockefeller Center are another 34 seats with views of the skating rink and the iconic statue of Prometheus. There, diners are offered a prix fixe menu: two courses for lunch ($50) or three courses at dinner ($85). An adjacent lounge area will have a la carte dishes.

Do note that the prix fixe and a la carte options will not be available in the first few weeks, as only the main dining room will open to start, with the terrace to open later.

When the other options roll out, don’t think this is one of those places where you can walk in and choose your own adventure with the tasting menu items; some of the headliners like the King Crab Bibimbap and the Wagyu Jeongol will only be available as part of the signature tasting in the main dining room.

Top Row (left to right): The three snacks presented at the start of the meal: a radish cracker (jerky, doenjang, and fennel bud jangajji), a bugak tartelette with gosari, and pyeonyuk (a beef shank and tomato gelee topped with golden keluga caviar); Soybean Jjigae, made of anise hyssop, zucchini, and fried tofu; and Fluke Twigim, a play on a battered and deep fried Korean street food. || Second Row: The display piece for the King Crab Bibimbap, presented to the table before the course is served; Wagyu Jeongol, the final savory course in the tasting menu, a wagyu strip with thumbelina carrots, a braised cabbage roll, and hon shimeji mushrooms in a beef broth. || Bottom Row: Tangpyeongchae, a mainstay in the Korean royal court during the Joseon dynasty.
Top Row (left to right): The three snacks presented at the start of the meal: a radish cracker (jerky, doenjang, and fennel bud jangajji), a bugak tartelette with gosari, and pyeonyuk (a beef shank and tomato gelee topped with golden keluga caviar); Soybean Jjigae, made of anise hyssop, zucchini, and fried tofu; and Fluke Twigim, a play on a battered and deep fried Korean street food. || Second Row: The display piece for the King Crab Bibimbap, presented to the table before the course is served; Wagyu Jeongol, the final savory course in the tasting menu, a wagyu strip with thumbelina carrots, a braised cabbage roll, and hon shimeji mushrooms in a beef broth. || Bottom Row: Tangpyeongchae, a mainstay in the Korean royal court during the Joseon dynasty.

3. The food is anchored in Hansik, a traditional Korean cuisine not often seen in America.

Earlier this year, executive chef Nate Kuester, executive sous chef Jonathan Moon, and pastry chef Celia Lee all moved to South Korea. Staging in restaurants, as well as traveling through the country to sample more traditional small-town eateries, gave the trio a crash course on a style of Korean cuisine that American diners are not yet familiar with.

“It’s an older period of Korean cooking,” says Kuester. “The flavors are less intense, less spicy, less bold. There’s not as much gochugaru or gochujang. It’s prettier and cleaner.”

Though it is not advertised as such, many of the dishes at NARO are drawn from the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897). Fermentation was still king, but the cuisine was vegetable-forward and more concerned with fresh seasonal ingredients than the heavy-handed flavoring with gochugaru chiles, which only became popular in the 19th century.

An example of one such dish on the NARO menu is Tangpyeongchae, a mainstay in the Korean royal court during the Joseon dynasty. Consisting of mungbean jelly topped with a colorful assortment of thinly sliced vegetables, the dish was used by the king to represent how various political factions, though diverse, could come together in harmony.

“I don’t think there are many restaurants, if any, that are doing this kind of cuisine,” says Kuester. “Our aim is to do it really well and give a true representation for diners that aren’t familiar with it.”

Pastry chef Celia Lee tweezes the ddalgi dessert to perfection. All photos by Gary He for Resy
Pastry chef Celia Lee tweezes the ddalgi dessert to perfection. All photos by Gary He for Resy
Omija punch (above), typically used for medicinal purposes in Korea, is combined with a pavlova and pear hibiscus sorbet as a palate cleaner. 
Ddalgi, or strawberry, dessert features a crème au fraise, green apple gelee, strawberry sorbet, and the highly coveted oishii berries.

4. The pre-dessert utilizes a Korean “five-flavor berry.”

“Omija is used for digestive purposes in Korea,” says pastry chef Celia Lee, who cut her teeth at restaurants like Jean-Georges and The Modern before coming to NARO. “Normally it’s served as a tea after your meal. It’s extremely bitter, very earthy, almost medicinal.”

Sourness, sweetness, pungency, saltiness, and bitterness. The berry’s flavor profile is not the first thing that comes to mind when it comes time for dessert. But at NARO, an omija punch that’s been steeped for over 24 hours is poured into a dish containing pavlova topped with a pear hibiscus sorbet, creating a perfect balance of tart and sweetness.

A strawberry sorbet topped with Oishii strawberries and petit fours close out the meal. 

Pastry chef Celia Lee, executive chef Nate Kuester, general manager Einstein Park, and executive sous chef Jonathan Moon are the team running NARO at Rockefeller Center. Photo by Gary He for Resy
Pastry chef Celia Lee, executive chef Nate Kuester, general manager Einstein Park, and executive sous chef Jonathan Moon are the team running NARO at Rockefeller Center. Photo by Gary He for Resy

5. The restaurant is named after South Korea’s first rocket into space

On January 30, 2013, the Naro-1 was the first Korean rocket to reach orbit around Earth. On November 1, 2022, NARO will be the first restaurant launched under NAE:UN Hospitality, the company formed earlier this year when the J.P. and Ellia Park decided to grow from a two-restaurant, mom-and-pop operation to a restaurant group with their eyes set on global expansion.

The couple has tried to be as hands-off as possible, empowering the chef team and general manager Einstein Park to run their own restaurant. They have to. After all, if everything goes well, this won’t be the only NARO.

“Maybe NARO can grow from here,” says Ellia Park. “Why couldn’t it become the next Nobu, and represent Korean cuisine around the world?”


Gary He is a writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. His work has been twice recognized by the James Beard Foundation. Follow Gary on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.