Two hundred and fifty feet above Hollywood Boulevard, a family has been separated. But this is no normal family – this is a family of Japanese spirits. These yokai siblings have lost their parents, and to find them, they have reopened the family ramen shop. This pursuit has led them and their mobile kitchen across the globe in a lifetime search to find their parents. But luckily, the ramen, drinks, and desserts they so expertly make glow when they are close to their parents. Tonight, the glow has brought them to the top of a mountain, and they have invited me to join in their meal.
Nakamura.ke Mobile Kitchen is a glow-in-the-dark dining experience, hosted by a family of yokai at Yamashiro, a 1914 historic Japanese restaurant. Guests are treated to an intimate dining experience combining a luminescent ramen dish and cocktails that glow via blacklights hidden beneath the counter. There are two tickets available: Omotenashi, a VIP experience in the shipping container with the chefs for up to six at a time, and Tachigui, an exterior bar experience for nine at a time. The experience immerses audiences in the world of the yokai, but ultimately, is a dining experience. Thus, the immersion comes in the form of the site-specific nature of the experience, the art on the walls, the interactivity with the chefs (for VIP), and the food itself. There are no roaming characters, narrative puzzles to solve, or grand conclusion. And with a run time of approximately forty-five minutes (with thirty minutes reserved for food), the experience is not meant to be lived in, but rather, just offer a taste of the spirit world.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a narrative or theatrics at all. The experience begins in the gorgeous Yamashiro sushi bar (with free Sake Mules while you wait), and then guests are led by two of the yokai down into the underbelly of the restaurant. As you descend the small stairs hidden away in the recesses of the kitchen, the world starts to shift. The illuminated art on the walls begins to move and liter bottles of dish soap begin to glow vibrant neon oranges and greens. Your guide stops you for a narrative introduction, explaining the backstory of the family, the separation, and the nature of the luminescent ramen. It’s a wonderful introduction, giving narrative purpose to an otherwise dining novelty.
The meal and cocktails are also a dining adventure. The glow-in-the-dark addition does nothing to detract from the deliciousness of the ramen; it is exceptional. I was able to try the Asahikawa, a tonkotsu broth with green lumen noodles, tiger prawns hidden in a gyoza dumpling, crispy chicken skin, shiitaki mushrooms, and pickled ginger – as well as the Yasai Miso, a vegetarian culinary masterpiece with miso pumpkin tare, shiitake broth, peach lumen noodles, white truffle butter, nori seaweed, and a three-hour poached duck egg. Despite ordering the Asahikawa myself, I found myself gravitating toward the broth of the Yasai Miso due to the pumpkin flavors and buttery richness. It was truly one of the best bowls of ramen I have had.
Taking place within a shipping container for the VIP, the atmosphere felt close, intimate, and otherworldly. The two chefs were just beyond the bar, happy to discuss the food with us, pour shots of sake for us, and prepare a wonderful jelly dessert that tasted like the best piña colada I have ever enjoyed. A Kitsune mask hung on the wall, surrounded by numerous framed pictures of the iconic Nakamura.ke art and other Japanese décor. Our guide warned us that the experience may feel a little cramped in terms of seating, but while there was only four in our group – the seating arrangement for six felt spacious and comfortable. Ultimately, the dinner felt hidden, exclusive, and transportive – as any immersive dining experience should.
Despite the successes, there is some room for improvement among this experience. The main issue I had with the experience is the rushed nature of the dining. With only thirty minutes to eat, the dining felt pressured. With a cocktail and a large bowl of ramen, I would have enjoyed a full forty-five minutes to sip my cocktail, talk to the chefs and my guests, and soak in the gorgeous scenery. Further, while the price-point is on par for a Yamashiro dining experience, the beautiful vistas outside, the narrative-framing, and the cocktails, the VIP could have been expanded a bit further, especially with more time. The ticket hinted at “a chef preparing the meal directly in front of counter-dwelling guests, displaying their masterful knife skills and cooking techniques.” There’s something magical about seeing so many disparate pieces come together to form a whole – but here, the bowls were already produced when we entered. With only thirty minutes, this was appreciated – but personally, with what was mentioned on the ticket, I would have loved to see the chefs display their mastery for all to see. Finally, with other dining experiences combining cocktails and dining together with interactive characters and narratives to uncover, I think this is a strong avenue for this team to pursue. Adding a character behind the bar to interact with the participants could help elevate this for a site-specific diner to an interactive storyline with delicious food.
Finally, it’s important to note that once the forty-five-minute experience has concluded, guests are led to Yomi’s Saloon, Disco Dining Club’s blacklit bar that combines the Japanese aesthetic with the swagger of an American cowboy. With a similar luminescence and some lovely picturesque spots, Yomi’s is an intimate location without the rush and timeline of Nakamura. Guests can sit back and enjoy a cocktail (or bring your unfinished one) and listen to some Japanese-flavored electronic tunes. The otherworldly aesthetic is reinforced beautifully by the musical selection combined with the illuminated décor.
Nakamura.ke is a delicious, dining-centric experience that combines a clever narrative to give purpose to a luminescent décor. Thus, this great meal is elevated beyond food and becomes an experience. With some more time to let the experience breathe, chefs to cook, and actors to interact, this could become something even more memorable. But what it is right now is magical, special, and a step in the right direction for food-oriented experiences. I will happily return to help the Nakamura family get one step closer to being whole again.
For more information on the event, and to purchase tickets for Nakamura.ke Mobile Kitchen in Los Angeles, visit www.exploretock.com/nakamura-