Sheila Kim-Jamet -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Nobu Fifty Seven is the fourth restaurant that the Rockwell Group has completed for Japanese chef-owner Nobu Matsuhisa: The firm designed the original Nobu, in New York's TriBeCa, in 1994 and the more casual Next Door Nobu in 1998. All three Manhattan restaurants employ scorched-ash tables, Thonet chairs, backlit onyx bars, and sea imagery that correlates to the delectably fresh sushi and sashimi.
But there the similarities end. Midtown's 11,000-square-foot, two-story Nobu Fifty Seven is nearly three times as big as its predecessors. The entire ground level is a double-height bar and lounge with floor-to-ceiling stacks of sake barrels and a quartet of strikingly inventive shell chandeliers. Off the main dining area, upstairs, there's an all-black hibachi room. Founder and CEO David Rockwell fills us in on the juicy details.
How did geography affect your design?
The Midtown location needed to cater to a business crowd. Also, since the restaurant is at the base of an office tower, we needed to have an awareness of activity outside and create a transition from the frenzy of 57th Street to the calmer world of Nobu.
How did you handle that?
We located the bar and lounge on the ground level, where they've become an after-work hot spot. Guests simply continue into the night with dinner upstairs.
Aesthetically, how did you differentiate this Nobu from the original?
The first location was inspired by Nobu Matsuhisa's innovative cooking and the culture of the Japanese countryside, where he grew up. Since then, the aesthetic has evolved into an architectural idea of layering and folding, with a visual vocabulary inspired by the ocean and Japanese fishing villages.
How does that take shape?
The motion of the sea inspired a metaphor for fluidity that envelops the restaurant. A giant wave of woven abaca panels, fabricated in the Philippines, rises through the double-height space and sweeps into the dining room, creating the sensation of being under a crashing wave. There's also a wave pattern on the banquettes, which were made in Indonesia. The abalone chandeliers evoke schools of fish.
How did you select the shells?
After researching thousands of options, we came across the abalone, which is an edible mollusk that breathes through holes in its ear-shape shell. Those air holes are ideal for stringing, and the shell's natural pearl finish has a light-catching effect.
Describe your color and materials palette.
The ground floor's palette—terrazzo in black and white, upholstery the color of seaweed, blue glass, walnut—was inspired by the sea and Japanese gardens. For the upstairs hibachi room and sushi bar, black terrazzo inlaid with rings of bamboo creates a dramatic backdrop for the theatrics of food preparation.