Chef Dae Kim (right) leads the kitchen team at Nōksu, a new chef’s tasting counter spot operating out of a subterranean space inside a New York subway station. Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu

The RundownNew York

All About Nōksu, the Chef’s Tasting Counter Hidden Inside a New York City Subway Station


In this edition of the Resy Rundown, we’ve got all the details on Nōksu, New York’s newest chef’s tasting counter that’s unlike any other in the city.

Located down a flight of stairs inside the 34th Street Herald Square subway station — right at the entrance located on 32nd and Broadway — it’s a hidden 12-seat fine dining oasis with a 15-course tasting menu, right in the middle of one of New York’s busiest neighborhoods.

Reservations drop for the first time this Monday, Aug. 28, with their official opening set for Sept. 21. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.

Update: As of Sept. 11, the opening date for Nōksu is now slated for Oct. 6.

1. Fine dining is a new venture for Nōksu’s owners.

Owners Bobby Kwak and Joseph (Joe) Ko aren’t strangers to the hospitality industry, but this will be their first fine-dining restaurant. Their other spot, Korean barbecue specialist Baekjeong is located just blocks away from Nōksu on the other side of Koreatown, and is a sprawling, two-story iteration of a California chain that’s gained critical acclaim as a superb spot for banchan and a wide selection of premium meats.

At Nōksu, you’ll instead be presented with a set menu at $225 per person for 15 courses, filled with elegant interpretations of Korean fare like smoked quail with puffed duck feet, and grits with squid, Carolina Gold rice, and okra. The counter seats just 12, designed for an intimate dining experience, with an additional seven seats in a glass-enclosed private dining room. And it’s being led by a first-time executive chef, Dae Kim, who previously worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Simone Tong’s Silver Apricot in Greenwich Village.

“We wanted to go into a fine-dining direction. Korean food in general is really trendy, and very hot right now,” Kwak says. He’s not wrong: In recent years, New York has seen a number of Korean fine-dining restaurants ascend in critical acclaim, starting with Jungsik, followed by the likes of Atoboy, Atomix, JUA, Kochi, Mari, LittleMad, and NARO, among many others. “We’ve always had in mind that we wanted to create something special, especially for this neighborhood.”

Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu
Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu

2. The space is one-of-a-kind, in more ways than one.

One thing that sets Nōksu apart from its counterparts is its location. Subterranean restaurants are more of a novelty in New York than in Asia, where sub-level food malls abound. Nōksu’s main entrance is located underground, down the steps and inside the 34th Street Herald Square subway station. The team says that when they first saw the space, the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” about the famous sushi spot in a Japanese train station, immediately came to mind.

“It used to be an old barber shop and a newspaper stand right at the entrance at the bottom of the steps to the subway,” says Kwak, who used to take the train here frequently to come eat in Koreatown.

The entrance is extraordinarily nondescript — it’s just a heavy-looking black door with a silver keypad handle. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might walk past it without a second thought. Trading on diners’ love affair with speakeasies and hidden entrances, guests are sent a key code to unlock the door in the station on the day of their reservation.

Once you’ve set foot inside the restaurant, however, the space is anything but easy to overlook. The sleek 12-seat counter is a shimmering contrast of black and white, inspired by Korean ink-and-wash paintings. The small kitchen space is completely open, fully in view from the counter seats, and shares the same elegant look and feel as the rest of the moodily lit space that was designed by Claire Soojin Kim.

“It’s a really cool, unique hidden gem of a space. It kind of gives off a little bit of that ‘exclusivity’ feeling,” Kwak says.

Chef Kim stands outside the subway station entrance to Nōksu.
Guests are given a special keycode to gain entry to the restaurant on the day of their reservation.
Photos courtesy of Nōksu
Photos courtesy of Nōksu

3. Opening this spot has been a long time coming.

Like so many other restaurateurs, the pandemic threw the Nōksu team for a loop. “It’s been a long process,” says Kwak. “We started this pre-COVID, but it was actually a good thing for us. We were able to change the menu in certain ways and refine it and bring it to a point where we feel really good. We’re really excited to launch next month.”

Those evolutions focused mainly around the food, Kwak says.

“It’s really about flavors, whether it’s pickling, dry aging, or fermenting. Because things are changing, the menu kept improving as we went on. We call [chef Kim] a mad scientist — he’s a real genius back there in the kitchen and we’re really proud to be representing him,” he adds. “I would say that it hasn’t been easy, especially post-COVID. Everything was delayed; even the building materials have had crazy delays. But the synergy of the staff is making the whole experience worthwhile.”

For Kim, the pause from the pandemic gave him time to reflect on the future of his career and the industry as a whole.

“I feel very privileged and fortunate,” he says. “At each moment I was thinking about where I would go for my next career. The pandemic was the year that a lot of chefs were thinking about changing their occupation, or their goals, and I was having that same moment. But now, I’m very lucky to still be pushing my cooking toward the next level.”

Korean ink-and-wash paintings inspired the black-and-white color scheme of the restaurant. Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu
Korean ink-and-wash paintings inspired the black-and-white color scheme of the restaurant. Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu

4. So, what’s in a name? At Nōksu, it’s an overarching theme.

Nōksu, which means “of the earth” in Korean, was an ethos for the team that extended far past just the name. “You feel a sense of serenity while you’re in the space. The food itself will also represent that, in the plating,” Ko notes.

The two-and-a-half-hour meal focuses heavily on seafood, game, and highlighting traditional Korean flavors. Although they anticipate seasonal changes to the dishes, for the opening, the menu will feature everything from American eel and venison to gizzard shad and surf clam. Kim is drawing inspiration from his childhood in Seoul, his fine-dining background, and the dishes he loves to eat in both Chinatown and Koreatown.

One of the dishes that Kim feels most exemplifies the menu is the gizzard shad, a fish in the herring family, served here with Korean radish, tomato, and gamtae, a kind of seaweed.

“It’s a very tricky dish to work on, but I think that it’ll be pushed to work in a modern way, but also accessible. I’m combining some Japanese, and a little Mexican flavor, too. I think it shows who I am,” says Kim.

There’s also the smoked quail on the menu, inspired by one of Kim’s walks through New York’s Chinatown. It’s served here with Kim’s barbecue sauce, soondae, a kind of Korean blood sausage, and puffed duck feet.

“I’m sure you’ve seen the birds hanging in the windows in Chinatown,” he notes. “They’re one of my favorite things to eat, and I thought of that for this dish. I like to go to Chinatown to get inspired by the whole cultural experience of being there with the young generations and the old generations.”

The meal begins with kegani, or horsehair crab, served in a small tart with turnip and a housemade crab innard compound butter. To end the night, diners are served cotton candy grapes with Tahitian vanilla and white chocolate.

“There’s a great wine program and a wine tasting along with the menu, and then also a non-alcoholic pairing,” Kwak adds. “We see more of a trend in culture where everybody’s serving and drinking non-alcoholic drinks, so we’ve created some amazing Asian-influenced mocktails that are very, very full of flavor.”

An optional wine pairing for the meal costs $175 per person, while the zero-proof cocktail pairing is $95. General manager John Parson fills the wine pairing with a variety of German, Austrian, and California varietals, while beverage director Alex Truong drew from zero-ABV wine and cocktails made with Korean teas for the mocktail menu.

The Dishes of Nōksu


Golden potato petals get topped with caviar surf clams.

Photo courtesy of Nōksu

The iwashi features potato, grilled radiccho, and yuzu kosho.

Photo courtesy of Nōksu

A mackerel course utilizes Atlas Farm carrots, celtuce, and sake.

Photo courtesy of Nōksu

The grits course highlights squid, Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice, Parmigiano Reggiano, and okra.

Photo courtesy of Nōksu


5. This will be chef Dae Kim’s first time leading a kitchen on his own. But he’s more than ready.

Kim, a native of Seoul, is only in his 20s, but he has worked in some of the city’s top fine-dining establishments. After starting his career as a dishwasher, he climbed the ranks until he found himself working in the kitchen at restaurants like Per Se and Silver Apricot, which is where he met Kwak and Ko.

“Joseph and I met chef Dae during the pandemic,” Kwak recalls. “I went to eat at Silver Apricot, where my nephew and chef Dae were working.” His nephew, who had worked previously in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park, knew Kwak and Ko were looking for a chef for their new spot and told them that Kim was a “badass” chef who would be perfect for their new concept.

“He said, ‘Trust me. That guy? He can work anywhere,’” Kwak says. “Then [Kim] did a tasting for us, and Joe said, ‘This is our guy.’”

“When I work with chefs, I really follow them a lot and use them as my mentor,” Kim says, describing his evolved approach to cooking. “I followed the recipe and followed their own philosophy. Now, I have to create my own thing here. I was asking myself, ‘What is the philosophy? What is the thesis of this restaurant? What is our main goal?’ “That’s probably the most challenging part for me because we’re building [Nōksu] from scratch, from the bottom.”

Even if all that’s still a bit of a work in progress, and still evolving, it’s clear that Kim, Ko, and Kwak are on solid footing when it comes to what they hope to achieve with Nōksu.

“We believe that the menu that we’re offering is so unique, and the dishes that you’ll get here you just can’t get anywhere else in Manhattan or New York,” Kwak notes.

The chef’s tasting counter at Nōksu seats just 12 guests for two seatings nightly. Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu
The chef’s tasting counter at Nōksu seats just 12 guests for two seatings nightly. Photo by Brynne Levy Photography, courtesy of Nōksu

Nōksu is located at 49 West 32nd Street, down the subway stairs on 32nd Street and Broadway that lead into the Herald Square Subway station. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m., with two seatings at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Reservations open on Monday, Aug. 28.

Ellie Plass is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.