You might think of Manhattan’s Koreatown as one nondescript low-class barbecue place after another. That would be unjust to one, at least: Gaonnuri, a new upscale spot with a $5+ million opening budget.
What did all that money buy? A stunning space on the 39th floor of a midtown office building, where Koreatown meets Herald Square. It’s the brainchild of architect Andy Sung, a native Korean, who saw the potential in a formerly windowless top-floor that once held ventilation and mechanical equipment.
Sung needs to sell a lot of barbecue to get that money back. Gaonnuri seats 250, and it was no more than 10 percent full on a recent evening, although the Post’s Steve Cuozzo found it busy at lunch.
It isn’t easily found. From the outside, there’s no indication that the building houses a restaurant. When you go in, a hostess checks your name on a reservation list, and only then allows you past the skyscraper’s security system, and onto the elevator.
It makes SHO Shaun Hergatt seem positively easy to get to, and we know how that turned out. Once you’re in, the décor is spectacular, but to some it may feel like a generic upscale Asian hotel restaurant (another charge unfairly leveled at Hergatt).
No one will complain about the unobstructed panoramas of the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. Cuozzo says that these are the best restaurant views since the Rainbow Room closed, and I’ve no reason to doubt him.
Prices are higher than the Koreatown average, but certainly not extortionate, as they tend to be at restaurants with views. The menu is lengthy and a bit confusing. There’s a list of cold and hot dishes that seem to be appetizers, but most of them come in small ($8–15) and large ($15–26) sizes.
Entrées, found on another page, are $15–28. Korean Barbecue is a separate listing, with individual portions $25–34 and platters for two at $60, $90, or $120. Hotpots are $50 for two people.
Cocktails ($10–13) and beers ($7–8) are comparatively inexpensive, and the wine list has plenty of bottles below $50. However, I chose an imported Korean bottled beverage, the Chamisul Fresh ($16; above right), which I can’t begin to describe.
We started with the Sanchae Bibimbap ($18), one of eight varieties of the dish offered here: a serving of mixed vegetables, shown in the photo (above) before it was mixed into a bowl of rice. It appears on the menu as an entrée, though we shared it as a starter.
Yes, I said it’s a bit confusing.
We ordered the $60 barbecue platter, which starts with a salad that resembles cole slaw (above left) and a spicy soup (above right).
There’s a wide variety of condiments and sauces (above left), and I didn’t photograph all of them, along with three meats (above right): beef brisket, pork belly, and galbi, a marinated beef short rib.
As at other Korean barbecue spots, there’s a grill built into every table. As the restaurant was fairly empty, the server cooked the food for us, although when it’s busy I assume this is left up to the customer. The food was excellent, with high-quality ingredients, well prepared.
Gaonnuri is only about a month old. Service is extremely attentive, but the kinks haven’t been worked out. Some of the servers can’t quite explain the menu—or at least, not in English. Bar tabs aren’t transferred to the table.
Is Gaonnuri for you? I didn’t mind spending $120 for two (before tip) for a comfortable, quiet dinner in a gorgeous space, with the best views in town. But you can go down the block, eat in a low-class space, with the food not as good, and spend a lot less. This is a Korean barbecue I’d go back to; the others aren’t.
How they expect to fill 250 seats every night is a good question.
Gaonnuri (1250 Broadway at 32nd Street, 39th Floor, Koreatown)
Food: Very good classic Korean cuisine, highlighted by the barbecue
Service: Attentive and doting, though still learning the rops
Ambiance: A stunning multi-million-dollar space with the best views in town
Why? Probably the best Korean barbecue in town, though you’ll pay up for it