An Insider's Guide to NARO, One of the Newest Restaurants at Rockefeller Center
On a crisp Saturday afternoon in December, visitors clad in puffy coats and lots of layers fill the newly renovated Rink Level of 610 Fifth Avenue with festive bustle. Some wandered in rosy-cheeked, fresh from gliding around The Rink, and others paused to capture photos of the Christmas Tree perfectly framed by windows across from NARO, a new fine dining option that’s dishing up fresh takes on traditional Korean cuisine. Nestled amid the merriment, the third restaurant — following Atomix (which has two Michelin stars) and Atoboy — from husband-and-wife restaurateurs Junghyun (or “JP”) and Ellia Park, beckons like a beacon.
Stepping inside NARO, the atmosphere shifts. The outside world melts away. The well-appointed space, adorned in a palette of earth tones, seems to exude its own gravity, like a world within the world of Rockefeller Center, which is known as a city within the city. Korean design firm Studio Writers based its concepts for the interior on “the joy and the aesthetics of Korea,” with subtle details that draw from the country’s art and craft cultures — including wallpaper made from traditional textured Korean paper covering the hallway to the 20-seat private dining room that’s meant to feel like s stroll through a winter forest. In the main dining room, a celestial map depicting the 24 Jeolgi (Korean seasons or solar terms) spans a large swathe of the ceiling. Ambient-yet-upbeat instrumental music lends to the warm, otherworldly vibe.
“We want our diners to feel as if they’ve been comfortably transported when they step into the space,” the Parks told The Center Magazine, “which feels ironic given our central location inside Rockefeller Center.”
True to its name — which draws from both the Korean phrase 나로, meaning “through me” or “with me,” and Naro-1, South Korea’s first space rocket to orbit Earth — NARO’s lunch and dinner tasting menus double as an invitation to explore. Based in Hansik, or traditional Korean cuisine, executive chef Nat Kuester’s menu side-steps ubiquitous Koreatown offerings, like stews and barbeque, and instead shares a greater breadth of small, nuanced dishes inspired by history. The beverage line-up features cocktails centered around Korean liquors, including soju, and equally well-crafted, alcoholic-free options, like the popular “Woosoo cooler,” a perfectly balanced floral-nutty-tart spin on barley tea, with a blend of green tea, hydrangea, lemon, Korean pear, and, of course, barley. “The menu is [designed] to take the diners on a journey to Korean flavors and combinations that might be lesser-known, but are just as significant to the culture,” the restaurateurs note.
Delectable morsels grace purposeful ceramic dishes, each artfully plated with memorable touches: Paper-thin slices of magenta radish sliced into flower silhouettes add bright pops to the succulent octopus naengchae, served with a radish-kimchi granita and a sprinkling of pine nuts. The tangpyeongchae, made with a bundle of julienned vegetables in the colors of a stoplight and mung bean jelly, symbolizes “the length of time it’s taken for Korean cuisine to be appreciated worldwide,” the restaurateurs note. After placing a shell-like bowl cradling a tender wedge of seabream cooked in sool (a Korean liquor) and topped with a tousled halo of shredded red bell peppers on the seafoam-green placemat, a server pours in a translucent broth, creating an ocean in miniature.
The lunch tasting menu ($95) serves as a foray into flavors (delicate, pickled, tart, spicy, briny, umami, delicately sweet) and textures (tender, crispy, creamy, brothy, icy), featuring a snack, three savory dishes, and dessert. And then one more tiny sweet treat, such as a crispy rice “petit four” glazed with a pleasing pucker of yuzu, to finish things off. Think of each precisely executed dish as a chapter in the poetic narrative arc of the meal. The food is creative and beautiful without being overly precious, and the servers offer gentle and kind suggestions on how to best enjoy these fine dishes (such as “I recommend mixing it all together”) without being pedantic. The dining experience is attainable as a midday indulgence over the course of an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
“I hope that the diners will be able to sense the passion and care that our team puts forth in the dishes and the hospitality,” says Ellia Park. “We have spent — and are continuing to spend — a lot of time thinking about the ‘type of air which fills the space.’ Our culinary vision and design are certainly cohesive, and I hope that it resonates during all of our guests’ dining experiences.”
NARO is currently accepting reservations through mid-January, including for special seatings on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve with deluxe twists on their debut dishes. And, in 2023, they’ll open an additional seating area in an indoor terrace and lounge area overlooking The Rink.
“To tell our story through our food and share our culture in such an iconic location is very special to me,” says Ellia Park. “I remember reading about Rockefeller Center in a travel guidebook when I first moved to New York 10 years ago. It’s still wild to think that we [are now] restaurant operators in that same building. With this opportunity, we hope [to] broaden our guests’ perspective on Korean food, as well as Rockefeller Center as a dining destination.”