Naro

By now, my wife Jun and I had visited Atomix in New York City at least 10 times. Our first visit to the restaurant was before it received its first Michelin star; now, it has two as well as currently the highest ranking among North American restaurants in the widely followed (and somewhat controversial) World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and is one of the most difficult reservations to secure in the country, if not the entire world. Frankly, we were not too surprised that Atomix had achieved this level of success. What we were surprised to learn earlier this year is that the husband and wife duo of chef JP and Ellia was not looking to just settle with running Atomix (and its casual counterpart Atoboy) but expanding to open a new project at the touristy Rockefeller Center that was looking to reinvest its image beyond the ice rink and the Christmas tree as a standout dining destination. When we last visited Atomix in October (another fantastic dinner by the way), the last of the now-famous flash cards had some words on the newly opening Naro. According to the card, Naro will be “focused on creating flavors that are further rooted in Korea’s traditions” compared to the two incumbents. When the restaurant finally opened in early November and I happened to have a business trip to New York during that month, I decided that we couldn’t wait any longer to check out Naro. Despite some non-food related kinks that we encountered (as noted below), we very much enjoyed the meal at Naro.

Just like Atomix, Naro has a tasting menu dinner format (at $195 per person during our visit, for both regular and vegetarian options). Compared to the dazzling show that is Atomix, I would say the dishes at Naro are a bit more understated. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the kitchen is lacking in ingenuity and execution. And some of the dishes certainly took me to my childhood memories. Growing up a child in Seoul, I hated mustard-based cold salad dish called naengchae (often presented with jellyfish). When I took a bite of the octopus naengchae from Naro, however, I had to wonder why I didn’t like this salad in the first place. The octopus, accompanied by kohlrabi and granita of dongchimi (a type of water-based kimchi), was so seductive in its texture, enhanced even more so by the flavor of Korean mustard. Similarly, I’ve certainly had my share of fried snacks growing up, and the fluke “twigim” with songi mushroom displayed an elevated version of that culinary tradition.

Dumpling soup is another popular stable in Korean cuisine, and Naro’s attempt to re-create it with the use of abalone dumplings wrapped in aehobak (think Korean zucchini) was quite clever, too. I also loved how the bibimbap was accompanied by king crab (instead of usual ingredients in the meat category), and the lamb saddle with sunchokes, perilla leaf and kimchi jjim was a stand-out savory course as well. For dessert, we both really enjoyed the strawberry dish (it’s not a real strawberry but an imitation with strawberry ice cream inside) that followed the pear pavlova palate cleanser.

Getting a reservation at Naro is going to be not as Herculean as Atomix (the restaurant is also open for lunch), but if you want to get prime time seating on the weekends, I highly recommend booking through Resy as early as possible. Almost all newly open restaurants have kinks to work out in their operations, and, although not fatally diminishing our dining experience, Naro wasn’t an exception. We were asked to wait close to 30 minutes after our scheduled time at the bar while the earlier table was finishing up, and the pacing of the food was surprisingly uneven (I think we waited another good 20 minutes before the first amuse bouche snacks came out). I’m sure Naro can fix these issues in the near future, and regardless we absolutely enjoyed all the delicious food. Not surprisingly coming from the beverage team at Atomix, the wine list was also quite fantastic and you can start your meal with some Korean-inspired cocktails. When a star chef opens a new restaurant, there are oftentimes concerns that the chef is expanding too rapidly without focusing as much on the core operations as he or she used to. I certainly wasn’t sure initially if Naro would be a dining destination that could have its own culinary identity and stand on its own outside the shadow of Atomix and Atoboy, especially considering its location at the tourist trap. That sense of trepidation was resoundingly addressed during our visit. While Atomix will always be our first restaurant to go to during our trips to New York, Naro is not far behind on our list of alternative places to regularly visit.

KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)

Address: 610 5th Avenue, Rink Level, New York, NY 10020

Website: https://www.naronyc.com/

Reservation via Resy

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