Nick Subic sees the future. As a guy who previously cooked at Roberta’s and Pines — two culinary soothsayers in their own right — Subic has moved on from contemporary Italian and nu-Nordic to focus on his just-opened Asian Noodle bar, King Noodle, located on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick. The shop, launched last week, was first run as a pop-up at nearby cocktail lounge The Narrows, but grew into a fully operation night market (with murals from designers Secret Handshake) after Subic saw that people were really into the Koreatown-inspired dishes he was serving as a special. He called it a pop-up, which — let’s be honest — makes everything taste better. In Bushwick at least.
“My first food loves were definitely Japanese and Indian cuisines, but it expanded from there with Thai and Korean following,” he says. Subic concedes that it took some work to breakthrough from conventional Chinese takeout and sushi joints, but when he started exploring the food of Goa, Yunnan Province and Northern Thailand, he entered what he describes as a “culinary rabbit hole.”
He’s emerged with the new restaurant and the menu plays as a tribute to the flavors of Asia, with some twists and turns that superficially remind of the stellar haute-stoner grub at nearby Do Or Dine. There are spicy wings lacquered with a Three Skulls Sauce (made with gochujang, dried Thai and Chengdu chilies, dried shallots, lime zest, garlic and kimchi brine). Kimchi “carbonara” is served over dan dan noodles with the option of pulverized Nacho Cheese Doritos. Because, who doesn’t want Doritos on shit these days? And while a preview dinner weeks before King’s opening proved a little shaky — housemade kimchi was over-salted; the Korean pajeon burned — it was still early days. And, bottom line, it’s refreshing to see a young chef like Subic tackling Asian flavors head on. That takes guts, and plenty of trips to Flushing.
First up, why cook with Doritos?
Taco Bell has (at least intellectually) been kind of a big influence on me. It's kind of gross, and I'll be the first to admit that, but I do think they did something that was a modernized approach to recreating a cuisine in the same way that American-Chinese restaurants were born. And it is its own cuisine. Keith and I were eating at Snacky in Williamsburg and they have a Kimchi and Mozzarella pizza that's served on a scallion pancake. It's awesome. It tasted really familiar, and after talking about it we agreed that it tasted a lot like a Dorito Taco Loco from Taco Bell. The kimchi Doritos idea really stuck with me, and after wondering why there isn't a kimchi flavored Doritos available to the public I started experimenting on my own.
Does Doritos have umami?
Yes, they have umami.
Have you traveled through Asia? Or, at least, to Flushing?
I've never traveled to Asia. I’ve never been able to decide and pick just one place to go and how could I go for fewer than three months — because I would want to really explore and get to know the food and culture. It's been a dream of mine to travel the Mekong all the way from Yunnan to the Vietnamese delta. But of course time is the biggest factor. Flushing is amazing. Every time I go there I feel like I learn more than I would from a whole Fuschia Dunlop book. The food seems really un-tampered with and totally unafraid to be chewy, fishy, spicy. We're starting to see more and more chefs who are unafraid to serve food that's foreign to the American palate. Places like Danji are certainly evidence of that. But nothing I've seen compares to Flushing.
What have been some big sellers at King Noodle so far?
The wings and ribs have been really popular. The mapo chili cheese fries we've been running as a special have been a really big hit too, and we've been serving a lot of all of the noodles, especially the carbonara. The vegetable dishes are really popular in their own right, and it certainly helps that there are a bunch in the $5-7 range, so a table can just order them all.
What do you have planned, in terms of adding items to the menu?
I really want to use the farmer's market as much as I can while the season is still strong. The plums from Locust Grove farm at the Union Square Green Market are my favorite things in the world and I really want to work with (and snack on) them as much as possible this summer. We'll make our own umeboshi. I want to create our own take on banchan and that is definitely in the works. I want fish to become a bigger part of the menu and that's in development as well. For the fall, I want to create a brothier noodle dish — not ramen but something with a more thick and viscous base that makes it hearty without really being a soup. Pig trotters and/or jowls will probably be involved.
King Noodle is located at 1045 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. kingnoodlebk.com