Head down the stairs on the northeast corner of Broadway and 32nd Street into the subway station and find an unmarked door. Though a Metrocard is not needed, customers use a pin code received on the day of their reservation to enter the marble-clad dining room that used to be a barbershop and newsstand. Starting on Friday, October 6, the Herald Square station is now home to the city’s next Korean fine dining restaurant: Nōksu.
The restaurant comes from co-owners Bobby Kwak and Joseph Ko, behind nearby Koreatown hit, Baekjeong, down the street, and more recent follow-up gelato shop, Sundaes Best. The kitchen is helmed by Dae Kim, an alum of Per Se.
A Midtown subway station may not initially conjure the kind of luxury theatre that a 12-course $225 tasting menu requires. But the Nōksu team wants to show that it can be anyway, and go toe-to-toe with several other fine dining names that have reached acclaim in the city, even with the whirling city background noises as its soundtrack.
The menu features dishes like a brown crab and turnip-seaweed tart, salmon roe with herb sorbet and saffron, trout with perilla and pistachio, and a caramelized onion with white chocolate.
Where once the subway’s stations used to more regularly house food spots, over the years, that’s died down, with chains like Dunkin’ Donuts filling the holes, or more commonly, stations with empty storefronts entirely. But over in Columbus Circle, the Turnstyle Underground Market keeps churning out at its food hall; across town, in an alcove of Grand Central, Daniel Boulud opened a “secret” omakase restaurant, Jōji, with a Masa alum last year.
The clandestine element should play in Nōksu’s favor, as it has for La Noxe, which, when it opened in 2021, reportedly had a waitlist of 1,500 customers eager to check out its subway-level speakeasy cocktail bar. If all goes as planned, the Nōksu team already has another next-door underground spot in the works, Garden of Eve Dessert Haus, which is targeting to open next spring.
As for why this subway station in particular for Nōksu, Kwak says it was personal: “I’ve been walking past this barbershop space for decades. It’s just such a cool, unique space.”
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t posed challenges. For one, the Nōksu space — which the team signed onto back in 2019 — does not have gas, which meant that they had to get creative with the menu; though, the pandemic of it all gave them some time to think.
The Martinique Hotel, above the restaurant at street level, is their landlord, while the subterranean entrance is of course operated by the MTA, which means there are some stipulations from the city in terms of upkeep. As for that recent storm, well, Kwak says he installed his own drains so that his restaurant can weather anything the new normal of city climate brings their way.
Meanwhile, Kwak tells Eater that he’s already doubling down on downstairs New York. When Garden of Eve debuts on the block in 2024, it will also have a below-ground entrance — but via the hotel, rather than the subway. He says it’ll feature several stands that showcase various Asian sweets as well as a dessert omakase counter.
For now, the team is focusing on opening Nōksu, located at 49 W. 32nd Street, near Broadway, in Manhattan. Reservations can be made online.