The Art of Dining Act One: The Set

The first move in restaurant design is almost always a spatial one: the parameters of the box—the stage set, if you will—must be defined before visual themes begin to emerge. At Nobu 57, the Rockwell Group inherited an awkward but highly public location on West 57th Street—home to a former ski shop on the ground floor and, according to Rockwell, “a slab of unrelated spaces” on the second. “The first thing we did was cut open the floor,” he explains. “We placed a stair that leads to the dining room to the right of the entrance and proposed a sequence where you enter from the side into a space that feels like a wave.”

Nobu 57’s literal wave—a huge undulating banquette that envelops the dining area—is the kind of big theatrical gesture typical of the firm’s work. “So much of Nobu’s food is wrapped either in seaweed or one flavor within another flavor,” Rockwell says, “so we thought it would be exciting to be in a space where you felt like you were in a wrapper.”

That enveloping gesture is repeated throughout Nobu 57 and contrasts with the casual layout of the dining room. “We had a lot of discussion about the booths that run perpendicular to the sushi bar because for a three-star restaurant it’s very informal,” Rockwell says. “But when you arrive at Nobu the sushi chefs call out ‘Welcome!’ in Japanese. We wanted to embrace that informality, so the only fixed seating is around the perimeter.”