Youji Iwakura, whose popular ramen at Snappy Ramen in Somerville is just the tip of his culinary iceberg, is opening his own restaurant, Kamakura. As spotted by Boston Restaurant Talk and the Boston Hospitality and Tourism Industry blog via the Boston licensing board, the restaurant will be located at 150 State St. in downtown Boston, right by Faneuil Hall. (As Boston Restaurant Talk notes, local restaurateur Brian Lesser — Tavern Road, Sweet Cheeks, and more — had previously been looking at that space, but Iwakura tells Eater that while they’ve discussed the concept in the past, Lesser isn’t involved in the project at this time.)
The renaissance of Japanese cuisine in Boston
While Iwakura has been especially known for his ramen skills in recent years, his background is more diverse, and the restaurant will not be focused on ramen. It might, however, appear on the menu for brunch or late-night service, and it will feature a seafood broth as opposed to being tonkotsu-style, he says, noting that working at Snappy Ramen has not just been about ramen for him. "It has been a big part of my culinary journey to realize the renaissance of Japanese cuisine in Boston," says Iwakura. "This time, for more!"
Prior to Snappy Ramen, Iwakura — who originally came to Boston from Japan to study at Berklee — was a sushi chef at Ginza in Brookline for eight years before switching his focus to front-of-house positions in order to work towards his childhood dream of being a restaurateur. He eventually returned to the kitchen with a job at Uni Sashimi Bar, leaving for two years to work at an upscale brasserie in Japan and returning to Uni as chef de cuisine. Next, he opened Basho as executive chef and eventually created his own company, Atelierkitchen Zen, through which he consulted on several restaurants and hosted pop-up dinners. He joined the Snappy team in 2013.
Contemporary kaiseki cuisine
But opening Kamakura has been on his mind for over a decade; the idea started during his first stint at Uni, while he was "creating many styles of sashimi (or crudo) that everybody is doing now." Kamakura — named for and inspired by Iwakura’s hometown — will feature contemporary kaiseki cuisine (beautiful multi-course meals highlighting seasonal ingredients) and more.
The coastal city of Kamakura, located in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture, is the birthplace of kaiseki cuisine. Nowadays, it’s what Iwakura describes as a "melting pot of art, music, and food" where traditional and modern aspects of Japanese culture live side by side, as do fine dining and street food. Local seafood and vegetables are the highlight, and the city also draws some inspiration from Mediterranean culture.
Accessible fine dining meets sexier casual dining
Iwakura’s intention is to create a place that offers "more than just sushi, teriyaki, tempura, or what people call traditional Japanese food," says Iwakura. "Representing the city and its innovative history, Kamakura brings renaissance to current Japanese cuisine in Boston and the New England area with a new niche, contemporary kaiseki. Here that is my ‘street food x kaiseki cuisine,' having fine dining food accessible and casual dining food sexier."
Kamakura will have different lunch and dinner options, Iwakura says. Lunch will feature healthy, all-in-one bento options (and takeout will be available), while dinnertime will include the multi-course tasting menus and more (no takeout). There will also be some late-night service. Expect an "intensive and unique" sake selection, plus wine, beer, cocktails, and "Japanese whiskey, of course."
At this point, Kamakura is likely a year or more away from opening as the inside of its future home, an old building, has been completely demolished and will be rebuilt from scratch. When it opens, Iwakura will devote all of his attention to it and will no longer be involved with Snappy Ramen, but he has been meticulously detailing his ramen recipes and training the team to carry on in the same vein when he leaves. (He has also created two original sauces through Wakou USA, so the Snappy team will have easy access to his products.)
Stay tuned for more details leading up to the opening of Kamakura, the conception of which dates back much further than even this past decade. Iwakura traces his ancestry back to a captain of fisherman on his father’s side and a farmer on his mother’s side, so he considers it to be "ancestral assignment" that he has become a chef.