The first thing you notice is that the ketchup isn’t real. The server, with a solemnity bordering on the absurd, places upon the table in front of you a bottle of Heinz ketchup. “It’s pretend,” she intones, before shuffling quietly back to the kitchen. It’s not immediately clear in what capacity the ketchup is meant to serve as a condiment, but after a few awkward minutes, it becomes apparent that this is the first course, a simulacrum of an amuse-bouche. At any other restaurant, this would be merely a farce, but I would strenuously urge you here to try the pretend ketchup, because it is ridiculously good—perfectly balanced, just slightly tarter than it is sweet, a tomato in suspended animation. The thing, it turns out, that you get when the ketchup is pretend is the platonic ideal of ketchup. It seems in hindsight totally obvious, the card nobody has yet thought to play. If the emperor has no clothes, you are left to dress him as you wish. Here, he is dressed in ketchup.
Across from you, your dinner partner may be enjoying “a stinky fart” or four nearly-identical courses of “Let It Go” (a song from the children’s animated movie Frozen, though the dish itself is room temperature—a rare misstep for a restaurant that doesn’t actually prepare any food). By the end of the meal, you’ve eaten countless exquisite ideas, a parade of perfect nonsense, but not a crumb of food has passed your lips (though your server will present a Hi-Chew with your check as a treat to take home). You’ll leave in a daze, but fundamentally unsatisfied, and this feels entirely the point of the exercise. You could have been eating oatmeal, cheesy popcorn, or fruit snacks—all of which might fill you up but leave you flat—but I guarantee you that nothing of substance is quite as nourishing as a meal with Kina.