Food and entertainment frequently go together. The extent to which they go together can, of course, vary significantly, but when certain foods are tied to themes — that’s when things really start getting fun. Nakamura.ke Mobile Kitchen [the “.ke” is the equivalent of “‘s” as in “Nakamura’s”] is a pop-up dining experience that recently opened its doors outside of Yamashiro Hollywood. Through its partnership with Yamashiro, Disco Dining Club and Dashboard, Nakamura.ke Mobile Kitchen has brought a ghostly dimension to the concept of the ramen bar.
After making reservations for the exclusive experience, guests receive menu forms to select their preferred drinks and ramen dishes. Then, when the big night arrives, diners drive up to the beautiful grounds of Yamashiro, which is situated at the top of North Sycamore Avenue and provides a terrific view of Los Angeles. At the time of appointment, guests are ushered into Yamashiro’s lobby, where they are plied with Saké Mules. After the mule starts to kick, the herd is escorted through the restaurant — past its scenic Japanese garden — and down into the darkness of the basement. It is in the basement that the ghostly experience begins.
Within a corridor of glowing images and a haunting soundtrack, the hostess tells the tale of the Nakamura family. As the story goes, Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura mysteriously disappeared. Their children later re-opened their parents’ ramen shop to honor the family tradition; however, on the day they opened, the food, drinks, and utensils began to glow. Could the glowing be evidence of the Yōkai (spirits) of Mom and Dad? The Nakamura.ke Mobile Kitchen represents the efforts of the Nakamura siblings, who continually seek reunification with their lost parents.
The next stop is the mobile restaurant. The ramen shop resides within a cargo container, which sits just out back of Yamashiro. The tiny space is decorated beautifully with haunting artwork and creative lighting and once inside, the guests [six per appointment for the VIP treatment] indulge in the drink and food items they’d ordered prior to the date of their reservation. Holding true to the family folklore, the drinks and food glow fluorescently. The food and drink are delicious — the ramen broth being especially delectable.
Following the meal, which lasts about 45 minutes, guests are invited to visit Yomi’s Saloon, an add-on to the experience. It is also located out back of Yamashiro and is billed as an open-to-the-public speakeasy, where the living and the dead co-exist… and drink designer cocktails. The glowing motif of Nakamura.ke is shared via some of the saloon’s decor. The installation, itself, is the product of a partnership between Disco Dining Club and Kensho, and will remain on the grounds of Yamashiro for the duration of the Nakamura.ke pop-up’s term.
Generally speaking, the Nakamura.ke experience was very enjoyable. For the VIP package, which I have described, guests will pay $158 a pop — plus $5 for discounted Yamashiro parking and whatever they choose to shell out if they want to keep the party going at Yomi’s Saloon, where drinks average $20. The ramen dishes my guest and I enjoyed were tsukemen and Asahikawa. For the former, the chefs were able to accommodate some dietary restrictions, which robbed the dish of its luminescence but not of its flavor. The Asahikawa contained a variety of components, including a large wafer-like piece of chicken skin and a tiger prawn dumpling, whose contents glowed bright pink. Again, both dishes were delicious. Drawbacks of the dining experience included not being able to hear the basement speech too well on account of the volume of the spooky atmospheric music and the tight spacing inside of the ramen shop. Despite these drawbacks and the brevity of the actual experience, the concept maintains its charm and was very enjoyable. There is a non-VIP version of the experience available for $83 a person, in which nine guests dine standing up and do not enjoy the company of the “spirit” chefs, who prepare the dishes in your presence.
For more background on the experience, I reached out to the public relations team, who emailed me answers to my questions. They attributed the responses, collectively, to: Zoo as Zoo, Dashboard and Disco Dining Club. When asked about the origin of the concept, the team responded: “The idea for glow-in-the-dark ramen initially came to Ami Sueki, founder of a Nakamura.ke partner studio, Zoo as Zoo, in a dream. Pulling content from Japanese club culture and folklore, familial connection, loss and empathy… The objective was to 1) have a good time, 2) bring people together and 3) make sense of this madness of a project. Just based on how ramen is comfort food and how glow in the dark ramen is such a hard to explain idea, we thought it makes the most sense to subscribe to the yokai as a device to account for everything.”
Though the team wishes to keep the luminescent ingredients a secret, they did offer some reassurance that there is nothing toxic [or likely supernatural] among them. They said, “Our lumen elements are naturally occurring… Numerous cocktails from both Nakamura.ke and our sister bar, Yomi’s Saloon, carry the same magical luminescence and wild color array.” As for the past and future of Nakamura.ke, the team explained, “The mobile kitchen began in January of this year in Atlanta, where it did two runs all the way through March. The next run took place in May for two weeks in Charlotte…[in Los Angeles,] it will be taking residency for three weeks. Only the Nakamura siblings know where they will travel to next, but wherever there are hungry and curious souls, Nakamura.ke is sure to follow…”
Diners who enjoy having their meals laced with theatricality will take comfort in knowing that when the Nakamura’s pull out of town, other high-concept dining experiences may be forthcoming. “As far as future projects go, all of the partners involved, from Zoo as Zoo and Bompas and Parr, to Disco Dining Club and Yamashiro, down to our fabricator Ninepound, are no strangers to the bizarre, the wild, the wacky and the new. So although we can’t guarantee another high concept dining experience specifically, don’t be surprised if we serve up some more offbeat experiences in the future…. And as for Disco Dining Club, a handful of hedonistic experiences are planned for later this year — from a Medusa-inspired feast, to a Less Than Zero holiday party, all leading into Disco Dining Club’s 5 year anniversary extravaganza in January of next year.”
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